Using Character to Fix Plot: M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 06/11/15

The interplay between plot and character development in a story should be like watching a couple on Dancing with the Stars. It’s so seamless and dazzling that it’s impossible to tell who is leading and who is following. Therefore, it’s only natural that if you’re struggling with one, you might have to tweak the other for the actual fix.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed my most current writing difficulty: the plot snag. Without giving away too many spoilers, my big struggle was with the last two chapters of rising action, where I was drawing total blanks. The story just wasn’t unfolding and I couldn’t even think of the next scene.

Diagnosing writing issues isn’t like figuring out what’s wrong with your car. We don’t have a manual or physical, tangible parts we can examine. However, here are a few things I see in this current manuscript that scream “plot problem.”

  • Unsolved issues: One of my main characters is a female detective named Allison. In one scene, I know she runs back in her room to get a box of old evidence and notes, but I don’t know what’s in the box. In another scene, Allison and Michael see some papers on a desk that I know relate to an international problem, but I don’t know what they are.
  • Necessary backstory that doesn’t fit: I know Allison’s father’s death a few years ago is integral to the story, but I haven’t been able to fit it in.
  • The big picture story works but the important details aren’t coming together: I know that Michael and Allison are supposed to hunt the villain. I know most of the steps they take. I know the climax. But I’ve got so many holes in the parts that explain why they are hunting the villain that the story feels hollow.
  • I feel like my villain’s plan is second rate: To tell you the truth, when I think about her plan to start taking over the world, I kind of get embarrassed and don’t want to tell anyone because subconsciously I know it’s cheesy. It feels like a B-rated action film–one where people go, “This doesn’t make sense.” I mentally can’t develop the ideas because I know they are laughable. 

The fix: In this case, I realized that the cause of my plot snag was a character issue. My villainess’ ideas and plans didn’t fit her character. (Nor were they logical, I’m ashamed to admit.) I spent yesterday reevaluating her character a few questions I asked myself:

  • What is her goal with this disaster she is planning?
  • How much work toward it has she done so far?
  • What drives her? Power, money, fear? Why does she want power?
  • What is her end game? What does she want to accomplish with her master plans? (This question was actually the game changer.)
  • What scares people in today’s society? (You can’t create tension if the reader isn’t a bit nervous about the outcome.)

Those questions helped me reevaluate the villain’s plan. I changed the whole thing and ended up figuring out several of my missing puzzle pieces, including connecting the dots with Allison’s father’s death and her box of evidence as well as filling in my missing two chapters. The good news: I don’t have to rewrite much!

How about you? Have you ever fixed a plot problem by reevaluating a character?

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About M. B. Weston

Award-winning author M. B. Weston is one of the fantasy genre’s new, emerging voices. The Elysian Chronicles, her flagship fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, has been referred to as, “…filling a big part of the void that will be left by the final Harry Potter,” by award-winning author, Vincent O’Neil. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. The Elysian Chronicles is being adapted into a graphic novel, and her newest book, The Sword of the Vanir (working title), is due out in Spring 2013. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and ImagiCon. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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4 Responses to Using Character to Fix Plot: M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 06/11/15

  1. Pingback: Using Character to Fix Plot: M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 06/11/15 | rrhunsinger

  2. Charles says:

    You know, this is going to be great advice for writing the antagonist of a pulp-ish story I was working on a couple weeks ago, a piece about a small town reverend in the ’30s looking further into effectively annual suicides (WW1 vets “get tired” and go off into the woods never to be seen again ) after his brother kills himself. I’ll have to pull that back out, thank you for the inspiration.

    Also reminds me of a piece on the Bell of Lost Souls, about how authors who explore fascism often get so wrapped up in the consequences of a fascist state that they forget to think about why a group of regular human beings could get sucked into such a brutal belief system. We forget that a lot of those folks want(ed) to feel safe, to belong to a group, to have the power over their homes they’d been denied for over a decade, they may have been nasty, but they were also scared, it was just sort of an interesting reminder that our villains deserve good (quality-wise) motivations too.

    Liked by 1 person

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