Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plot and Character (and an exercise)

When reading submissions, I have noticed that authors often have trouble weaving together action and character. This means that the story halts in one aspect to give room for the development of the other, creating a slow pace and, often, an uninteresting read. Or, a worse mistake is to present one but not the other, the most common bias being all action and no character.

In good writing, plot and character are intrinsically intertwined. Author Stephanie Grant says that plot is the exteriorization of the internal state. That is, one of its main functions is to illuminate character.

Imagine a woman walking into a bar. She is young and beautiful, and has just arrived in town to visit her sister. But right now she is alone, and sits down on a bar stool, opens her purse (one of those big ones with a silver latch) and takes out a tube of lipstick. An attractive man sits down next to her and hits on her. What happens now?

Out of this generic situation, something telling could happen that both illuminate character and advance the story.

Think up 25 reactions. The number (25) is meant to be big so that the generic reactions quickly run out, and we get into some really interesting ones. For example, she could slap him, throw water on him, flirt back, ignore him, try to start a conversation about 19th century art, ask him for an expensive drink, jump up on the bar and yell that he’s the baby daddy, take out a knife and stab him, take his picture, ask him to marry her, ask him to marry her sister, ask him to kill her sister, and the list goes on.

The first few reactions are disgustingly plain. They tell the reader almost nothing about the woman, and do not drive forward plot in any significant way.

Don’t settle for stereotypical actions that say nothing and fall flat. In fiction, actions are meaningful. And if only for aesthetic purposes, readers prefer freshness over banality.

Creative Writing MFA


Kimberly Sabatini said...

Great post! It is something I'm really trying to focus on and improve in my own writing. The example at the bar is a great way for me to remember to do that! :o)

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

Thank you for the suggestions.
Lindsey Petersen