Most people think a story’s “plot” is a just-the-facts version of what happens: boy and girl (or boy and boy, girl and girl, snail and fossil—whatever) meet cute; boy and girl rush to lust; boy/girl/both cheats; boy and girl break up; cheater somehow redeems themselves; boy and girl reunite; a third party causes trouble; boy and girl break up; the third party recants/is proven wrong; boy and girl reunite; boy/girl misunderstand something; boy and girl break up; the misunderstanding gets cleared up; boy and girl reunite and live happily ever after… or until the next book in the series.
Who hasn’t read that story a hundred different times in a hundred different ways? But did you notice what each of those plot points entailed?
A plot is not just a sequence of events that occur because the author wants them to happen in a certain pattern. That boy/girl template would fall flat on its face if the people involved didn’t spur the action forward. Plot, then, is really an interconnected sequence of actions taken in response to… well… other action. Not the shoot ‘em up, car chase, explosive type of action—but character action in the form of thoughts, emotions, reactions, and decisions.
Even an action-driven story needs to be set in motion and driven by the characters living through the action.
Character action brings a plot to life, makes it rise and fall, twists it around corners, backs it up to try a different route, and finally brings it to a satisfying conclusion. Its plausible character action based on each person’s emotions, thoughts, reactions, and insights that drive a good storyline from one plot point to the next, infusing it with energy, suspense, terror, glee, laughter, and head-nodding wisdom that, to make it a compelling read.
Your characters don’t necessarily have to be bigger than life—they just have to be large enough to push the action forward, drive one plot point into the next, and make the entire tale hang together as an integrated weave of action and personality.
How can you get your characters to do that? Simple—you just must know who they are… not just in terms of the story, but in terms of their background and perspective, their motivations, and their agenda. Taken as a whole, those elements push your characters to think and say things that make sense to who they are… take actions that come across as reasonable and plausible… make decisions that force the other characters to respond appropriately… and, of course, push the plot forward in a crescendo that climaxes in a riveting eruption and resolves in a satisfying conclusion.
In the rest of this 4-blog series, we’ll dissect those elements so you can get the most out of the people living through your plot.