A new week as here! And an interesting topic as well…
Just as I mentioned in my post about the purple hippopotamus, plotting is something entirely based on personal choice. Which means that what your english teacher told you to do before writing might not actually be what you need to do. Although, I must admit that I am quite oblivious on the topic of english teachers.
What do english teachers have to do with any of this? Well, nothing. But they are a good example of an opinion, and this post is about opinions.
To go back to the beginning: What is plotting? Well, according to the always-helpful New Oxford American Dictionary, the definition for plotting is to:
- secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action)
- devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work)
- mark (a route or position) on a chart
I think everyone can agree that the meaning to look for at the moment is the second. Although, the first definition might have something to do with many writers affinity for making their characters’ lives terrible. Wonderfully terrible. How else could they grow so spectacularly?
Why does the definition of plotting matter? Well, because there are so many different forms and ways of plotting.
Here are a few examples that I know of:
- Some people write a short list of things to pay attention to (my favorite).
- Some people make detailed maps and write equally detailed descriptions of each scene.
- Some people will put everything on flash cards and mix them up to understand where they want each thing to be.
- Some people will write their plot like a movie script: starting at the end and then working backwards.
Well, I could go on. But I am sure that you would be able to come up with many more to add onto a mental blackboard (do not forget about the chalk). One thing that is almost always necessary in plotting is the ability to know either who your main character is, or what the issues of the time are. It does not matter what kind of story you are working on, it is always good to know something.
If that something is the fact that you have no idea where anything is going, that is just fine. I think it still counts.
Well, you may ask, this post was supposed to be about plotting. Why are you suddenly jumping to talking about character development?
Well, because character development is plotting. At least, part of it is.
Which brings me to my main point: Begin plotting by looking at the largest part of your story.
Why is this important? Most stories have a reason for existing; whether that reason is because you simply want to write something fun or different, or because you want to bring up a moral question or an issue of the time, your story will still have a reason for existing.
This reason, whatever it happens to be, is the beginning of your story. Your main character could be anyone, or even anything, but whoever or whatever it is is still your main character. It is necessary to know something about who or what it is. Sit down and think, fold your feet underneath the blanket on your lap and pick up your cup of tea. Put a dictionary next to you and choose one word.
That one word could bring you anywhere. You do not need to know very much, you just need to know enough. The definition of enough in this case, is something that you can come up with on your own.
As an example, for my serial story (Beautiful Cracks), I still do not know what the name of the main character is. I am not even sure what she looks like, but I know enough about her for her to be the main character. That is all you need, just enough.
So, what are some good questions to ask when you are trying to understand your main character? In no particular order:
- Is your MC a what or a who? Most stories begin with a who, but that does not mean that that is what you have to do.
- Why is your MC in the story? What does he/she or it have to do with the rest of your story’s dilemma? These are questions that you will most likely have to ask again and again. Do not stress out if you have no idea at the moment. Everything will work itself out.
- What does your MC look like? This could be as simple as whether your MC is human or something else to defies lines.
- What is necessary to your MC? These are not the things that your MC needs (such as a meal or water), or the things that your MC wants. These are the things that create your MC. These are the things that your MC loves so much that they become part of him/her or it.
- Who does your MC spend the most time with? Who someone is when they are alone versus with someone else can be very different. Who your MC spends the most time with can not only affect how they act with other beings, but also how they see themselves. This is also a great question for getting to know your MC a bit more: Is your MC kind? Judgmental? Loyal? Manipulative? Honest?
- How would your MC act in a certain situation? This is an interesting one (please forgive the fact that I do not remember where I first heard about this), and one that I would like to use more than I actually do. For this one, I like to put my character in a dentist’s waiting room and watch how they act. What kind of magazine does your MC pick up? How does he/she regard everyone else in the room? What is the first thing that your MC thinks when he/she sees a certain object? Emotions are also something to pay attention to.
- How does your MC see him/it/herself? This is another one often without a definite answer. Living beings are not definite things. Play around with this question and see where you end up. What does your MC see in the mirror?
- How do others see your MC? Of course, this is a sideways opposite of number seven. And one that can pretty straightforward to say, and just as complex to consider. Look at a few of the people around your MC, what are their first thoughts when they regard him/her?
Are these questions necessary to starting to write a character? No. You can ignore any, all, or some of these questions. But they are things to ponder. Pondering is good, so is trying on different ideas to find what fits.
Play. Walk onto the playground as though you have never seen it before and see what you can do. Come up with your own questions, try a few of mine, and look around for more. You might find some in the most unlikely places.