Day 3 – How characters change plot

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the characters you create may have the power to change everything you thought about your plot. This is not a new idea. I picked it up from Alan Watt, who wrote an excellent writing resource called “The 90-day Novel,” a resource that I highly recommend, and on which the narrative arc exercises later this month will be based. But the idea doesn’t originate with him, either.

When you are thinking about the world of your novel, your characters are real human beings that have interactions and personality. By developing their personality, solidifying details that may or may not appear in your novel, you are determining how they may react in certain situations – and you might find they behave differently than you had originally planned.

Let me give you an example of how developing my protagonist wildly changed the plot of my novel: My original idea had my female protagonist meeting and forming a friendship with a male character who would help her survive a difficult situation that she was unprepared for. I thought they would fall in love and continue to be travelling companions through the book. He seemed necessary to her survival. But through developing her, I realized that my book was really about her finding her identity through trial, and when I had a closer look at him, I realized that she would become more important to him than his dedication to their shared cause. Suddenly I was in a position where I had to write a pretty important character out of the story. So I did. And the plot feels better for it, and it opened up a space for a different (probably better) character who plays a different role in the protagonist’s life.

It can feel a little like a death to feel everything you felt about your novel suddenly change so drastically, especially if you’ve had these ideas forever. That’s why, through this whole process, you need to hold your original ideas loosely, so you don’t strangle the characters trying to make them fit in a pair of jeans that’s just too small.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel



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