Having Trouble With Plot? Look at Your Characters.

character and plot

It’s become an old adage of writing advice that, in a great story, character and plot are inextricable from one another. Character doesn’t dominate, and the plot doesn’t dominate. Rather, the seeds of conflict lie in the character, and the chain of events that unfolds couldn’t possibly exist in the exact same way, or have the same repercussions, for someone else.

In his recent essay for Glimmer Train, novelist and writing teacher Joshua Henkin comments on the how the roots of character grow the branches of plot. He says:

My graduate students often tell me they have trouble with plot, but what they’re really telling me is they have trouble with character. I remind my students to ask themselves a hundred questions about their characters. Better yet, they should ask themselves a thousand questions, because in the answers to those questions lie the seeds of a narrative.

Read the full piece from Henkin.

Also this month from Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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2 Comments on "Having Trouble With Plot? Look at Your Characters."

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Michael LaRocca, Technical Editing

Quite right. I start by spending a bunch of time creating my characters and the initial conflict, and getting chapter one just right. Then I spend a roughly equal amount of time writing the rest of the first draft, because my characters tell me what they’re gonna do. If I hit a so-called block, it’s usually because I wasn’t listening.

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