Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

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Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

Postby bthomas7 » Fri Dec 18, 2015 8:32 am

I did a quick search through the forums and couldn't find anything so I apologize if I missed something and this is semi repeated but I'm looking for some input because I'm about ready know...bash my head into a wall.

I'm about 17,000 words into a novel (I know not that far) I have one main character and two very involved supporting characters. My problem is that every time I sit and write I feel like the plot is only moving because I'm forcing characters to act to get it to where it needs to go. I've never had this happen (I don't have a novel published but I've written a novel length work before and have several short stories published) and I've always felt like my characters are legitimate. This time around I feel like they are unbelievable, non-discernible, and making dumb choices/remarks for the sake of moving the plot along.

So I am looking for any input on how to develop these characters to the point where they feel discernible and believable and are products of the plot not the factors leading to it? If that makes sense? I'm sorry if I'm muddled but, while I have a lot of areas that I need work on with my writing, my characters are normally pretty good. I think a major part might be that I normally write sci-fi and fantasy so I can have them behave however and it is justified, this piece of work takes place in the real world and so I feel like I maybe writing it and thinking no this is how someone should act in this situation, not how the character would actually act?

anyways, if anyone can make sense of this and has any advice it would be mucho appreciated! thanks
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Re: Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

Postby kentagions » Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:40 pm

Hi bthomas,
'The story writes itself' is an adage that I found offensive when I was a kid. Now I understand it, somewhat.

How about a jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor. All of your characters are pieces that need to fit into the picture. The better you define them, the easier time you will have finding their place. Imagine that you create tongues and grooves and bulges and edges (the more the better, because they are background and attitudes and reactions and physical and mental strength) that can only fit one way into the picture. You create highly refined shapes for every character in the story. Do you see that this kind of character construction, when they are given a plot situation, will fit only one puzzle?

A piece (character) that you feel is out of place or doesn't fit at all is one that doesn't belong. Hahn Solo can't appear in E.T. But you're referring to more subtle gradients of character. (As a positive aside, I would impress upon you to remember your current situation for when you need a character who is an obviously false witness.) You wrote dialog or action that doesn't seem natural to the character. If you feel that it's wrong, it's wrong. At times like this, I check my character study and if I don't have a character study, I take the time to write one for a character who would naturally say the dialog that will advance the plot. I alter my concept of the character to fit the place in the puzzle. With 17,000 words in the box, you probably don't want to change puzzles.

Every character must have complete definition: strong vs. weak, outgoing vs. shy, intelligent vs. unintelligent, knowledgeable vs. ignorant, reactionary vs. stoic, etc. Every character has a life before the inception of the story. Every character has a history and a culture and a place in the world before the story. The story might change any or all or none of the characters, but the seeds of change or resistance to change must be there before the story begins, inherent in every character. Primary and secondary characters need a lot of thought. Tertiary characters need less, but still must be understood by the author.

One of the funniest things I ever saw in a monster movie was when the pitchfork rabble showed up at the castle and one man had a rake. The author needs to know why that idiot had a rake.

Good luck,
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Re: Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

Postby orbivillein » Fri Dec 18, 2015 2:00 pm

Character versus plot, and such, is a complex topic. John Gardner and L. Rust Hills discuss at length character and plot -- and -- at least coordinated development and movement. The term melodrama applies to plot features applied solely for the sake of plot movement. They are usually sentimental, too. A reaction segment when a victim sheds tears, for example, without previous preparation.

The why tears shed is implied and subject to variable interpretation, without suitable character development. Does the victim cry because of a natural cause? Has the victim cried before in reaction to a suitable cause? More so, is the victim of a type who is sensitive and emotionally reactive?

Prior events develop the character's nature, prepare for natural and necessary behavior to come. Of course, an action type character probably is less sensitive and emotional, though circumstances might indicate shed tears, inevitable and surprising tears. Beautiful when that happens and is a feature of character movement -- from insensitive to sensitive, moral and emotional movement, too.

Development is a matter of movement: plot, story, character, emotional, event, setting, moral, and situational movement. And and and. An action character who cries is a situation that artfully is prepared for previously, next, developed in tension's suspension -- the action character is increasingly bothered so much that tears are inevitable though held in abeyance until irresistible -- then tension relief from resolution: tears.

That sequence, preparation, suspension, resolution, oscillates throughout a well-crafted story from sentence to sentence, scene to scene, and overall, from start to end. And is natural, probable, necessary, inevitable, and surprising reaction behavior to compelling conflicts and events and transformed by them. That is movement synthesis! Not melodrama.
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Re: Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

Postby amoskalik » Sun Dec 20, 2015 5:53 am

If I understand your situation correctly, you need your character(s) to say or do something that it is not in their nature to say or do, thus the conflict between plot and character. This is a fairly common problem I face. There are three possible solutions. Which one is best depends on the situation. The most obvious is to change what happens to fit the character. This works well if the plot point is a minor one, not so much otherwise.

If the plot point cannot be changed without destroying the story, then change the character. This is always a tricky operation and will likely require rewriting earlier scenes.

But what if the character cannot be changed either without destroying the story?

Well, then you have to dig deep. Any character can be made to do anything under the right circumstances. You are going to need to apply pressure and make it plain to the reader that the character really doesn't have any choice but to do the thing you need them to do. This is actually a good thing because you want a lot of tension at major plot points anyway.
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Re: Stuck with Plot vs Character and character development

Postby bthomas7 » Mon Dec 21, 2015 7:03 pm

Thank you guys for your input. I downloaded some in-depth character questionnaires and hemmed and hawed over my development of them. In the end I needed to add a few more scenes in between the plot point (event where actions felt forced) and previous plot point (fairly near to the beginning). I think, if this makes sense, i had the characters fully developed in my head, I just didn't have enough time with them on paper for their choices to make sense when reading through what I already had.

Write, rewrite, write, rewrite. wotf017 what are your gonna do except press on.

Thanks for the input, it definitely helped and I appreciate it.
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