Do you find that plotting fiction is fun? Or do you avoid it? If you’re a pantser you’ve had several novels go off the rails. Either you get stuck, or you hate a novel so much you delete it from your computer in disgust.
Plotting begins and ends with your characters. If you’re a confirmed plotter your plot will lose its power if your characters are weak.
Plotting fiction: start by creating strong characters
Plotter or pantser — nothing works without strong characters .
Each of your characters needs a major goal, as well as smaller goals. Look for these goals when you start writing or outlining.
Keep asking yourself (and your characters): who, why, when… how?
I like to start character-creation by deciding on my main characters’ attributes:
Keep it simple: choose a maximum of three traits per main character. You’ll spend the most time with your protagonist (main character), so choose traits which spark inspiration.
For example, let’s say you’ve decided that your female protagonist is compassionate, witty, and absentminded. How would you show that she’s compassionate in a scene? Does she own a dog? A cat? An otter?
How would you show that she’s witty and absentminded?
1. What threatens your characters?
You also need to know what threatens your characters.
In mysteries and thrillers, your main characters will have physical threats. However, no matter the genre, your characters also need emotional threats, so you need to know what those threats are.
A character’s emotional threat usually grows from his flaw. From Characters in Fiction: Love Me, Love My Flaw:
While all characters are based on aspects of their creator, if you’re a new writer you’ll create characters who are Mary Sues or Marty Stus: idealized people, representations of yourself, and your counterpart of the opposite sex.
To avoid this, focus on a character’s flaw.
A suggestion: any positive character trait can become a negative trait (flaw.) Traits, both positive and negative, tend to be on a continuum.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a psychological thriller. Your female main character is charming, and sees the good in everyone, rather than the bad — whether the bad is actual, or potential.
So, she’s a target, and dies at the hands of her fiancé, even though she was warned about the man.
2. Set goals for each of your characters
When you’re plotting fiction, it’s worth studying classic novels and movies. A character’s goals may not be spelled out, but she/ he will have a goal.
Not only will each of your main characters have a strong goal, but your characters will fight to achieve that goal.
Check the novel you’re writing. Will your characters fight for what they want? If you have a main character who avoids conflict, you need to change that.
3. Blind spots and secrets: give them to your characters
Your character’s blind spot will often stem from a positive character trait. In the psychological thriller we mentioned with the charming female who sees the good in everyone, that positivity becomes her blind spot.
It’s worth looking at this list of positive character traits, and thinking about how a positive trait can become a blind spot.
As well as blind spots, secrets will help you to plot your novel. Everyone has secrets, whether small or big. Secrets create conflict, and your plot needs lots of conflict.
Why worry about plotting fiction? Let your characters do it
Remember that you need to SHOW your characters’ attributes, flaws, and conflicts, so you’ll write in scenes, as we suggested in Create Your Own Writing Process: Write Fast, Write More:
You want to create scenes which will take you through the book. Just get a packet of index cards. Whenever you get an idea for a character or an event, write it on an index card. Limit yourself to one incident or character per card.
One scene leads to another, and another.
Before you know it, plotting fiction has become easy, because you’re not “plotting.” You’re developing strong characters, and what those characters do is your plot.
Have fun. 🙂
When you write in series, you're giving yourself more chances to sell with every novel you write.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →