Friday, August 14, 2009

Character-Driven Plotting

Yngve Johnson Tore-- Swedish--1928-1979--Untitled 1949. I love reading novels where characters’ faults or virtues play a role in determining their fate.

Take me, for example. I did something stupid on Wednesday that could have taken my day on a completely different trajectory, had I been unluckier than I was. I went to the grocery store to get some of the ingredients for the breakfast casserole on the food blog.

It was already raining, but lightly. I hate carrying things around with me, so I impatiently just hurried into the store without my umbrella. When I came back outside, it was pouring. Most people were intelligently waiting near the door for the rain to let up (which it did in about 3 minutes.) But….I was impatient again and dashed across the pedestrian crosswalk. Note: I did not have my children with me. I tend to use my brain a lot more when they’re around.

It was raining, I was in a hurry, and a young man in a car was, too. He tore out of the parking lot area, swerving left toward me as I ran for my car. He slammed on his brakes and I froze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I looked at him—pale 20-something with a goatee and a shaken expression, still holding a cell phone to his face. I rested my hand on the hood of his car.

Now, let’s look at this as far as plotting goes. Both my impatience and the young man’s put us in the situation. But what got us out of it? If he hadn’t been as young as he was, maybe his reflexes wouldn’t have been quick enough to stop on a pin like he did. Honestly, his reflexes were a lot faster than mine—I could only stop, not even try to avoid the car.

What are your characters’ virtues and vices? Are they stubborn? Naive? Are they nosy? Do they have an inferiority complex or a superiority one?

What are their characteristics? Do they think quickly on their feet? Are they meticulous? Gifted? Slow? Adventurous? Shy?

It’s interesting to think that you could take one character out of a plot situation, plug in a different character and have a completely different situation happen. What if a distracted mommy had been driving the car that nearly hit me? What if I’d had road-rage (on-foot rage?) and angrily pulled out a gun when I was almost run down? What if I’d been a child and too small for the person to see me?

The next time I get stuck with a plot problem, I’m going to play around with this scenario a little. Maybe I’ve just got the wrong character in the situation. Perhaps the scene was meant for a different character.

And I’m going to start carrying my umbrella.