What is the book about? A woman leaves work and vanishes. Is this a story? No.
What is story? Story is an account of happenings (events, or main point of actions)
with characters doing things, but story is not plot.
Plot is different from story; it is a sequence of events which are interrelated
through cause and effect. Events can be thought of as scenes, which evolve out of
other scenes, that is, one scene follows another in a logical sequence, and hence
evolve through cause and effect.
Before you start writing one word, you must:
Determine what your book is about.
Be able to describe your beginning.
Be able to describe your ending.
Know your characters like the back of your hand.
Outlining is NOT a dirty word.
Now, in between your beginning and ending, write your main points of action ---
what happens, action by action, conflict by conflict. And only hit the major points
of action between your major characters for now.
Some writers find it helpful to write a synopsis at this point. I like to
write synopses. This doesn't mean that any of this is etched in stone. Events change
as we write.
Craft: How to Develop Your Story Through Characters.
What is STORY?
It is an interpretation of a chain of events, involving the
characters that inhabit these events, and places in which these events occur.
What is PLOTTING?
It is the arrangement of a sequence of events that are
interrelated through cause and effect. According to Donald Maass, it is the
organization of the story. I like to think it is structure. When plotting I remember
to build in conflict, which Maass considers the essence of the story, and we should
layer the conflict, building tension on every page.
Which is more important--- characters or plotting?
"Character and structure are the same," according to Robert McGee. "They are
interlocked. The confusion lies in Character versus Characterization."
Characterization are the things we learn about a character from his psychological,
physiological and sociological traits- "all aspects of humanity we could know by
taking notes on someone day in and day out---sex, IQ, style of speech and gesture,
choice of car and home, and dress; education and background, personality, values
and attitudes. This singular assemblage of traits is characterization . . . but is
not character," according to McGee.
Then, what is character? "True character is revealed in the choices a human being
makes under pressure --- the greater the pressure, the greater the revelation. Is he
courageous or cowardly? The only way to know the truth is to witness him making
choices under pressure in pursuit of his desire. As he chooses, he is." (Robert
Characters determine the chain of events by what they WANT.
wants something. In each scene characters come into conflict by what they want.
Make them suffer.
How do I develop my characters?
I go in lots of depth. I do characterization by building biographical sketches---their
physiology, sociology, and psychology. What have they done from the time they
were born until they enter the story? I want to know what they do and how they
relax. What are their values? What do they consider good or evil? Are they kind,
loving or hard and difficult?
I have the characters write a JOURNAL about their life, which they direct to me.
It is interesting what they think about me, the author.
I also build backstory: Backstory does NOT mean life history or biography. It is
the set of significant events that occurred in the characters' past that I can use to
build their story progressions. This can come out of their journaling.
It took me some time to get used to listening to my characters-that is, my
characters talking to me. There are times that I wonder what they'll do and say
in certain scenes. The way to get them to respond, as Robert McGee points out,
is to put pressure on them. Pressure brings out your character's true nature by
the way he reacts-brings out his true humanity. I let my characters do what they
want, with some control, making sure they would respond in such a way to be true
to their character. In my third novel, "You'll Never See Me Again," I worked on
my cast of characters for six months to get to know them before writing a single
word. You need to really like your characters and your villain; otherwise, it will
show in your writing. My cast of characters must be weaved into the whole. Can't
allow anyone to stagger into the story (on stage) and play a part. Each role must fit
a purpose. That's where outlining helps me.
Designing your cast of characters.
The first rule of cast design is to polarize the characters-give them contradictory
attitudes. No two would react to the same situation in the same way because no two
characters would share the same attitude toward anything. They have different
humanity-"each bringing to the story the combination of qualities that allows an
audience to believe that the character could and would do what he does." (Robert
One last thought about your characters. It is important to pay attention to
your character arcs (growth) for your protagonist, antagonist, and secondary
characters. Who are they at the beginning of the story? Who are they in the middle
of the story? And finally, who are they at the end of the story?
SCENES: Scene is an action through conflict, which changes one of the
character's valued-charged conditions. Ideally, every scene is a story event--one
of those events in the chain. According to McGee, "Look closely at the scene that
you've written and ask: What value (Love? Truth? What?) is at stake for your
character's life at this moment? How is that value charged at beginning of the
scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next, turn to the close
of the scene, and ask: what is the value now? Positive? Negative? Some of both?
Make a note. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same
note you made at the beginning, you have to ask: Why is this scene in my novel?
Nothing meaningful has happened."
Maass, Donald, "Writing the Breakout Novel, insider advice for taking your fiction
to the next level," 2001, Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH 45207
McGee, Robert, "Story: substance, structure, style, and the principles of
screenwriting," 1997, Harper-Collins, New York, NY.