Keep the Character, Change the Plot

by Tim Kane

There are two types of writers: Those who focus on plot and those who focus on character. You may not know yet which type you are, but with practice, you will.

Let’s start with a case study. A fellow writer of mine always starts her new work the same way. She focuses on various plot ideas, churning out pages, only to have them not quite work. It aggravates her to the point of chucking the computer out the window.

The epiphany comes when she finds the character’s voice. The protagonist will “speak” to her. When this happens, my advice is to listen. It’s tempting to push on with the plot you’ve already scripted. But in my friend’s case, the entire plot went out the window. Only the character survived. It turned out to be the right choice.

There are those of us who think we’re plot writers. Truth is, you get yourself a killer main character, and readers will follow that person through umpteen pages.

I can attest to this myself. I used to get so hung up on plot, that I would never let my characters breathe. I recall at one critique someone asked how the protagonist’s parents’ had died. I made up some story about a boating accident, when really I had no idea. I hadn’t even bothered.

That book was a flop. So was another that I wrote, and rewrote, five times. Why? There was no attention to character. Then I started a manuscript where I focused chiefly on character. This one worked. I constructed the plot around the character. What situations would challenge her? What were her goals? Then, instead of forcing my protagonist to run after goals she could care less about, I made her the focus.

What about you? Do you find yourself hamstrung by plot? See where your character wants to go.


About Tim Kane

Tim Kane is a young adult fiction writer.
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4 Responses to Keep the Character, Change the Plot

  1. This made me smile, Tim! I have rewritten a novel numerous times because I was so focused on character the plot was lost or not there. I think the trick is to write/rewrite enough to learn one’s own particular process so that you can tweak and orient the yin and yang of it in a way that actually works.

  2. That’s great advice. I tend to think more about the plot than the characters and sometimes they come across as flat, since even I don’t know much about them half the time.

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