Writing is a unique process. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. I begin with a basic plot with a few key scenes which act as waymarkers. I pants along in the first draft, allowing the characters to take shape. It’s not a quick means of writing. Typically I end up rewriting much, but it fleshes out the characters who drive the story.
In a conversation with another writer friend, we talked about one of her characters searching for something. Ah, the good old quest! I like these. What would they encounter? Who would help them? Where would they go? So many choices!
Wouldn’t it be great if…
The problem with too much choice is… too much choice. Either you get bogged down by the sheer number of options you end up not writing anything, or, like a corvid finding something shiny, you leap for the most epic choice. Space pirates! Sharks with friggin’ laser beams! Deathtraps in every hidden tomb!
Lost the plot? Look at the character.
The characters drive the plot. It is like a person driving a car. They decide the route, who goes with them and how safely they will travel. The writer puts diversions and traffic jams in places to make things more interesting.
Back to my earlier questions about the quest plot, it is easier to narrow down the options when considering the character arc. If they’re going on a quest, they probably want to take their mates. Maybe they’re unable to? Perhaps they have to call on the help of an old enemy? Does the quest take them back to a past they wish to forget? Or forward, towards a future they don’t want to face?
Typically, I had a plot idea in the shower. Simply, ‘What if I changed a side character from male to female?’ I loved this idea. I could picture this character so well and loved the nuances of her own arc. However, after mulling on it for a day, I realised the friction between my two main characters would be reduced because of it. Characters need friction. If they didn’t, it would make for a short and boring book.
So when I get stuck on the plot, I look at the characters and decide which options would cause varying degrees of personal friction. What will make them resist? What will make them change physically and emotionally? What will help them fulfil their character arc? It doesn’t have to be the worst case scenario every time, and it’s not always a bad thing to throw luck and good fortune into the mix now and then. The plot is critical, but the character is at its core and who the reader invests in. We emotionally follow their trials and tribulations and share their joy when they succeed.