How to plot a character-driven story

by Roger

Question: I recently found out that I am more of a plot driven story teller. Before, when I think of an idea for a story, I tend to think of the plot first, and then create characters based on that plot. I guess that's because I used to read a lot of mystery stories before. However, I realized that the characters I've created are rather flat and not that memorable.

Recently I've been reading character driven stories, and I thought that the characters are really interesting. And the plot of those stories are not bad at all. So I decided to try out creating characters first and then think of a plot based on those characters. But I found it harder than I thought. I guess I might be experiencing another kind of writer's block.

So my question is, can you give me some tips on how I should plot a story based on characters that I've created? I hope that you could help me on this. Thank you very much. :)

Answer: Character-driven plotting can be much more complicated, which is why so many authors who write them tend to be pantsers (i.e. they don't plan so much but write "from the seat of their pants" and let the characters dictate the direction of the story). Of course, they may need to do a lot more revision later to find the plot.

Your first step is to develop your understanding of the characters, so you have a holographic sense of who they are and how they will behave. You may want to write detailed character sketches and backstories.

You will still have a
plot to plan, but the overall plot may take a backseat to the other throughlines that deal with the point-of-view (POV) characters' inner conflicts, as well as the character relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to plot these as well.

A well-developed POV character's arc should look like this...

Initial approach --> Growth (pressure to change) --> Personal Crisis (decision whether to change) --> judgement (good/bad resolution of inner conflict)

This arc should reflect the progression of the character's inner conflict.

An impact character (who gives the POV character an example of another approach) will have his/her own arc that looks similar, except that we don't see inside his/her head.

The relationship between a POV and an impact character will also have its own arc along the lines of...

Initial relationship --> deepening relationship --> relationship crisis/pinnacle --> Resolution (how the relationship stands at the end)

As for secondary characters, you might think of giving each an...

Introduction: an event that establishes who the character is when we first see him/her.

Dismissal: an event that shows how the character ends up.

In between, characters will have relationships/interactions with each other. You can take any relationship and give it its own arc along the lines of...

Setup: how the relationship is established

Interaction: how the characters either conflict, help, hinder, need, or gift each other.

Resolution: how the relationship stands in the end.

The advantage of thinking in terms of arcs is that the arc creates an emotional pull that drives the characters and the story. The reader wants to see what happens the next time the characters interact and what happens to each person in the end.

Comments for How to plot a character-driven story

Click here to add your own comments

Thank you very much!
by: Roger

Your answer is really easy to understand. Although I still think it won't be easy, but at least now I feel like I already have a sense of what I should do. Thank you very much again :)

Well said!
by: Anonymous

Said simply, but said well. I always think of character driven stories in terms of soap operas. Yes, soap operas are basically melodramas to one degree or another, but the comparison is still apt. They're character driven stories...albeit mostly bad ones...but they still are. So, think like you're writing the best soap opera ever you're trying to correct what's wrong with the ones on TV and not make the same mistakes they do/did...and you'll be going in the right direction. You could also use gossip as an analogy. You know how some people are focused on other people's lives and they love to spread it around. Think of reading a character driven novel as being that person. You're watching to see what happens in the personal lives of others. And as the author you're writing what those people will want to read...the kind of story they will be interested in. In so many words you want to give them the "oh, no they didn't" moments they're looking for. And in order to do that you need interesting characters otherwise "oh, no they didn't" will be "yeah, so what?" Thy all of that is as opposed to hoping to god they diffuse the bomb in time (you know, plot driven). You still want them to diffuse that bomb but...and here's when it becomes a character driven story...BUT will the characters wife divorce him if she finds out he got himself involved with whatever lead to the bomb diffusing moment? You don't know, but you're interested as hell...way more about that then the bomb. If that can be said about your novel...then congrats it's character driven.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Plot Invite.