MBM: Developing Plot and Characters Together — by Tricia Pease

Welcome to the fourth day of March Book Madness. (If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. The schedule is at the bottom of this post.) 

Today, Tricia Pease is here talking about how plot and characters can be developed together. Tricia is my niece, and I love her (and her family) to pieces. She’s been an avid reader and writer since she was young, and she’s currently working on two novels. I’m so excited to have another writer in the family, and I’m thrilled she agreed to come back to March Book Madness!

(See her previous post at the end of this one.)

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Tricia Pease:

When starting your book, what came to you first, the hero or the villain?

Maybe it was the plot or the setting?

I have two stories I’m working on, and for one it was the hero and the other it was the plot. But once I had the initial idea, I couldn’t move forward without developing both the story and the characters.

For example, my fantasy novel started with the plot. But once I had written down the (very) basic outline of the story, I had to come up with the characters who could make those events happen.

I knew some basics that I needed in my characters.

My main character needed to be naïve, kind, impulsive and yet dedicated to her task. She needed someone who would spur her impulsiveness and someone who could ground her impulsiveness. She needed someone who would guide her, someone to tempt her to quit and someone to lose that would give her the commitment to see things through.

So my plot needed a character with specific characteristics. To get some of those characteristics, she needed the plot to have specific twists and turns.

This is why I develop my story and my characters together.

Plot and Character Twists

While it’s important to keep your characters in mind as you work on your plot and vice versa, there are still steps I take that relate more to the plot or more to character development.

Plot

One Sunday in church, the teacher asked us to take the biggest themes of the Bible – Faith, Charity, etc. – and summarize them in 10 words or less. It was a good exercise that I’ve used regularly since then with my writing.

I realized if a scene or a goal was too complex to be summarized that briefly, I probably needed to break it down into more manageable and understandable pieces. Or maybe take out the extras. 

But how do I know if it’s an “extra”? 

I ask myself 3 questions:

  1. Does it move the story forward?
  2. Does it give important information about the characters, the overall message of the book or the plot?
  3. Could I trim the important information and add it to a different scene without losing anything significant?

One article I read suggested making a spreadsheet of your chapters/scenes and including a <15 word summary, the POV, the emotion(s) and word count. I think this is a fantastic idea and it’s on my to-do list, although I’m going to change word count for characters involved. (By Monica Clark, http://thewritepractice.com/scene-list/)

The reason I think this would be really helpful is it would lay out the story arc in a clear fashion and let me see the arcs of the minor characters. Also it would help me see if I’m using one POV more than I wanted to, or if I’m lingering on one emotion too long while not emphasizing another enough.

We all want our stories to flow and if we jerk the reader from happy to sad to happy to sad over and over without any neutral down time or other diverse emotions, they will either be bored or overwhelmed.

Characters

There is a lot that goes into character development. I have found that the most important part is to have a good foundation for my characters.

Part of that foundation is understanding what role each character plays. Of course, the main characters will usually play more than one role and some roles will have more than one character.

But if you list every name of every character in your story and find that there is one who isn’t playing any role at all, you should reassess why that character is in there.

  1. Do you need to flesh out the character so that he/she/it is bringing to the table what you need?
  2. Or is that character just taking up space that you would rather have for something more relevant?

There are many roles that are needed in a story. And not every story will need the same roles to be fulfilled. Here is a list of the roles I have in my book:

  • HeroArchetypes
  • Villain
  • Sidekick
  • Sage
  • Shape-shifter
  • Comedic Relief
  • Childlike Innocence
  • Voice of Reason
  • Moral Compass
  • Instigator
  • Anti-hero
  • Narcissist
  • Warrior
  • Guide
  • Love interest
  • Distraction

Of course there are times when you just need a filler character – a soldier who stands guard, a neighbor your character sees every day – these have a place in making your story realistic, but don’t let them side track your story. If the neighbor is only there because your character lives in a subdivision, we don’t need to know all about the neighbor’s twelve cats, her horrible arthritis and the story of how her husband died tragically, as compelling as that story may be.

Well, I could go on for days about these things, but my youngest kids are both running around without pants so I have to go back to the real world and wade through my laundry. I hope you find these points are helpful as you write and edit.

Thanks Rebecca for giving me some blog time. I always look forward to your March Book Madness!

 

Tricia Pease

Tricia spends most of her time being a wife and mom. She has 4 beautiful girls and loves every minute of it. In her free time she pursues her love of books both by reading and writing. She hates horror stories and loves history and fantasy. Tricia started writing poetry when she was 14 and started her first book at 16. She’s working on two books right now, one fantasy and one historical fiction.

Previous March Book Madness Post: 2012, Reading for Writers, by Tricia Pease

Rebecca’s thoughts:

Thanks, Tricia! I’ve had books come to me as plot first, and books come character first, but like you’ve said, by the time you start writing, you need to have a firm grip on both.

I love the concept of letting the plot mold the character and letting the character mold the plot. The two should be dependent on the other.

I also love the suggestion of making a spreadsheet with info on each scene. I’ve done that in the past and it helped a ton. Not sure why I stopped, but after I read your post, I pulled it out and updated it for this new book. I have my columns: Date, Chapter, POV character, # of Pages, Weather (which I’m only doing because weather matters in this particular book), Main Emotions, Beat Sheet Part, and Synopsis. Then I have a separate spreadsheet with characters, physical description, age, personality, and archetype (like the ones you listed). Having it set up like that really helps me see where my book has holes.

Great suggestions, Tricia. Thanks again!

What do you think? Do you start with plot or characters? How do you use the one to drive the other? Have you tried the spreadsheet method? What works for you?

Comment here.

How Plot and Characters Work Together by Tricia Pease

Make sure to tune in tomorrow for our next guest: Sarah Belliston.

MBM

If you’re new to March Book Madness, it has nothing to do with basketball (sorry) and everything to do with books. March is National Reading Month, so March Book Madness gives me an excuse to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors.

If you’ve missed any posts, here they are:

2014 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

2013 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

2012 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

5 thoughts on “MBM: Developing Plot and Characters Together — by Tricia Pease”

  1. I like that 15 word synopsis idea. I will definitely start putting that into practice (even though it will probably torture me at first). Great post, Tricia.

    Like

  2. Brevity seems to be a common weakness with authors. I guess if we were good at summing things up quickly we’d write short stories instead of novels. It’s good for us to have to sum up. (One of the reasons I like twitter.) :)

    Like

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