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Have Characters, Need Plot

Anonymous asked: “Hi Lizard! I thought of these amazing characters the other day but I can’t figure out how I can mess up their lives so I can write about them! Help!”

First off, I’m going to share this prompt generator by Future is Fiction called, “Let’s Put Your Character in a Sticky Situation.”  It’s a fun way sometimes to get started. Now, onto my thoughts!

So, when it comes to finding a plot for your characters to play out, I think that it’s important that it seems to come from the characters. Now, I don’t mean that the plot can only be determined by the characters, but it is one way of writing and if you already have an idea of who you want to write about, why not use that as a spring board to propel your whole story forward? Let your characters drive the plot. 

Now, how do we do that? The standard thing I hear just about everywhere is that you need to decide what your characters want.  It was Kurt Vonnegut who said, “Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” And he’s got a point. Character desire will motivate a story and direct the plot. If you already have your characters anyway, why not work from what you have? 

If your characters right off the bat don’t really want anything, maybe they find something pretty quickly that they do want. Maybe there’s a singing contest advertised on the news that they decide they want to win, or sitting at a coffee shop, they decide their life’s mission is to win the heart of their waitress. It can be anything. They don’t have to know what they want right from the start, but they should probably have a good idea within the first few chapters. 

Or, maybe you know what your protagonist wants, but what else is going on in their life. Maybe the character isn’t the best singer and his arch nemesis happens to be a minor rock god and likely shoo-in for first place. Maybe the character pining over the coffee shop waitress already has a wife. Let there be complications. Let their lives, fleshed out and mess, get in the way and spill into things. Let the wants of other, more minor characters effect things. 

My last piece of advice, start making your character do things. What do they do in this story? Sometimes when you have an idea for characters, they are only flat images, they aren’t moving through the world of your story yet. If you aren’t sure of the plot yet, try thinking of what your characters do. What are they doing when you put them into a scene? What happens to them? 

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