Character And…

In the first post in my series on getting from a character to a plot, I alluded to the idea that you couldn’t do it with just a character and nothing else whatsoever. A character in a vacuum is no fun whatsoever. She touches nothing, changes nothing, is changed by nothing; at best, she wanders from vignette to vignette, gracing them with her presence but providing no more connection to them than an aquarium fish might have to those bizarre collections of blurry light and shadow outside the tank who occasionally dump food flakes in. There needs to be something else, or someone else, that gives the character room to engage in plot rather than just drifting through the day’s routines.

The most logical of these Character And factors is, of course, another character. Romances, feuds, rivalries, training stories, and a thousand others all depend, in the end, on the interaction between one character and another. This character, who [such and such plot-relevant traits] has a [rival/love interest/mentor/sworn enemy/obnoxious or beloved family member/nifty pet] who [traits and/or actions]; throw in/create a background for it, add complications, flesh out what needs fleshing out, and there you go!

Then there’s Character And Event. Simple premise: Character is having normal life (for whatever value of normal this character might have, anyway), Something Happens, Character deals with the something happening. If the event is of limited duration, followed by a reversion to the status quo—a short power outage, for instance, or the circus coming to town—then the story really doesn’t need to extend beyond the event. If, on the other hand, the event is something that happens and changes everything by its happening, the plot’s likelier to carry on long past when the event itself finishes, following the ripples it creates in the world by having happened.

What about Character and Setting? In situations such as this, all plot is drawn out of the character’s interactions with her environment—society, surroundings, metaphysics, you name it. The useful thing about Character and Setting as a springboard is that since the character should have a setting before she’s done being drafted anyway, it doesn’t take much by way of extra work to get it to where the character—and thus the plot—can springboard off of it. Is there a point of the setting that the character would wonder about and want to explore more closely, or want to try to change? Is it going to naturally present hazards just be being a place where, say, food is scarce, magic occasionally does strange yet beautiful things that wreak havoc with day to day life, natural disasters are a semi-regular occurrence, or everything up to and including the feral relatives of the family pet is in some way deadly?

If you’re having trouble coming up with an entire plot just on the strength of one created character, don’t fret over it. Just create something else to turn it from Character into plot to Character And… into plot. The story will come much more easily.

5 comments

  1. Michael says:

    I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many stories have titles of the form “[character] and …” :)

    Character and setting is an intriguing case. Just from the examples I can think of off the top of my head, if a character and setting are both in the title it nearly always means the character is an outsider, either having fallen into an unfamiliar setting or having entered to complete some objective before they can go back. (Of course, in stories of this type, a sense of the character’s home setting is still essential as well.)

    So that’s one other category that could be considered. Some advantages of this type of plot are that you have a natural starting-point and objective for the narrative from the outset, and an immediate source of conflict and mystery and a sense of gradual discovery. It also avoids the problem that if characters remain in their familiar setting, they don’t usually spend their time explaining how the setting works to each other :)

  2. Ravyn says:

    Good point!

    Though I think it might almost be more amusing to have a little less of the character being told how the setting works in general and a little more figuring it out by trial and error. Earn the exposition and all that, so it’s triumph rather than infodump. It worked for old survival stories, after all.


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