Quick skills: Character and Plotting

I’ve heard it said that the harder a book is to write, the easier it is to read. I’m not sure I agree. Yes, a book should cost the author pieces of their heart, but I’ve found that the more tangled my plot, the more complicated my character, the less popular my stories.  As I’ve grown as an author and learned how to create simple yet powerful storylines and characters, the popularity of my books has also grown.

As I’ve streamlined the process of plotting and characterization, the writing process has become easier, also.  Sure, it’s still hard work, and still costs me pieces of my heart as I write emotion onto the page, but I know where I’m going and the plot is less tangled as I get there.

The fact is, plotting and characterization don’t have to be complicated.  You just have to dig deep for the right pieces.
1. Start with Who your character is…
2. Then dig around for two major backstory elements:
a. the Dark moment of his past (which I talked about in yesterday’s post),
b. the Happiest Moment of his past, which helps us understand his greatest dream, or what your character wants. 

Quick Skills Character and Plotting diagram

The last thing I do to make sure that I’ve correctly plotted my character’s journey is to ask them  – “What can you do at the end that you can’t at the beginning?”  Donald Maas teaches a variation of this in his Writing the Breakout Novel and I’ve found it key in my own plotting.  This ensures that a character has completed his journey of change…and allows them to win the day, something they can’t do at the beginning of the story.

After I find all the pieces, I plug them into my Plotting Roadmap:

Act 1:
Home World:  What my character wants, believes (the lie), why, and what holds him back from achieving his dreams.
Inciting Incident:  The event that propels the character to a possible journey of change.
The Great Debate:  The choices before him, and the Push-Pull of the Noble Quest (the motivations that drive him forward).
The Noble Quest: The Quest/Goal that the character will strive to achieve.

Act 2:
The challenges and choices the character make as determined by his values and his goals, all of which have both consequences and obstacles.  This is marked by what I call: Disappointments and Y’s in the road. 
This act ends with the Black Moment Event. (His greatest fear coming true)

Act 3: 
Black Moment Effect:  (the belief that the lie is real and that everything is lost)
Epiphany (The Truth that sets the character free – derived from the opposite of the lie)
Final Battle: Testing of the New Man. That thing a character does at the end that he can’t at the beginning to prove that he is changed.
Happily Ever After: (The achievement of the dream).

That’s it.  If it sounds overly simple, and overly structured, remember, it’s just a roadmap. You’ll discover all the scenes of your story as you build it.

And obviously, Act 2 is much more involved – but I’ve found that if you get the “bookends” (Act 1 and Act 3) figured out, then finding the pieces of Act 2 are much easier.

Although, I have some Quick Skills hints for Act 2 coming up in a future blog.

Hope this helps you create a plot free to major tangles.

Now…to the hard work of writing.

Quick Skills:  Use just a few basic questions to plot your character’s journey and you’ll make your plot more accessible for yourself…and your reader.

Have a great writing week!
Susie May

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Susan May Warren

About Susan May Warren

Former Russian Missionary Susan May Warren is the best-selling author of more than 40 novels and novellas with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill, and Summerside. A Christy award and RITA winner, and multiple finalist for the RITA, Christy and winner of Inspirational Readers Choice contest, Susan currently has over a million books in print. A seasoned women’s events speaker and writing teacher, she is the founder of http://www.mybooktherapy.com an online community for writers, and runs a fiction editing service teaching writers how to tell a great story. Visit her online at: http://www.susanmaywarren.com.

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2 Responses to Quick skills: Character and Plotting

  1. Jeanne T February 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Susie, having these tips made my writing of my first draft go so much more smoothly. Thanks for sharing them!

  2. Jennifer Fromke February 15, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    The black moment split into the event and the effect is great – that was a lovely lightbulb moment for me this morning. Thank you!

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