Like I said last week, I think plotting is my weakest writing skill. But writing short stories has helped my game in this area and provided me with several insights. One of those is to use my greatest writing strength to bolster my weakest one. For me, that means allowing my characters to inspire plots.
I have to see my main characters in my head as clearly as I do people in reality. I have to understand their personalities as well as my kids’. When I have that strong of a grasp on my characters, plot points pop up.
After I wrote the basic storyline of my first published short story “Debt to Pay”, I felt I needed more tension in the confrontation scene. In my story, a teenage boy and his older brother find a millionaire who crashed his plane near their remote home in Wayne National Forest. The millionaire begs the brothers to hide him because he knows his plane was sabotaged but has know idea who wants to kill him.
During the confrontation scene, the millionaire’s wife and her boyfriend come to the cabin and discover their plot to kill the millionaire has failed. What does the wife do? How could her decision add tension?
I considered the character of the wife. She is greedy. So greedy that she married for money. So greedy that she plotted to murder her husband and inherit his money. So what would a greedy person do? Assume others are as motivated by money as she is. The wife offers the brothers money to kill the millionaire right then and there.
When I realized this was the wife’s motivation, I was stunned at how logically the scene worked itself out. It seemed like my characters had wrested the story from me and developed the plot on their own.
Here are some personality types that can help lead you to plot points:
- Curiosity or nosiness. This character is likely to discover something he shouldn’t know. Depending on his sense of morality, he can use this knowledge to help others or take advantage of it to help himself.
- Bad temper or caustic tongue. This character hurts others by losing her temper easily or with cutting remarks. She can either be unaware of her affect on others or well aware and enjoys inflicting abuse. Either way, other characters will have a strong reaction to her.
- Impulsive. This is a great trait for causing trouble. Or saving the day.
- Patience. A character can endure tremendous hardship with this trait. Or wait a long time to enact the perfect revenge.
- Control. Almost no one likes a person who wants to control others. Like the bad-tempered or sharp-tongued character, the controlling character will spark strong feelings and reactions from others. The lengths to which a controlling character tries to maintain control will lead to all sorts of plot points.
How do characters inspire your plots?