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Project Log #2: Using Character to Build Plot

As I’ve continued to read Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld, I’ve been developing my San Frantasy story into a novella. I really like the characters and the world, but the problem I’ve been running into is crafting a compelling narrative. 

I had something really interesting, a murder mystery for the characters to solve, but it felt hallow. The main character, Brent, didn’t really change. He didn’t really want anything other than to solve the mystery. There wasn’t a sense that it was anything other than a good plot. 

It was mostly a good plot because it was a well-tread plot. But without the character motivating it by their choices to try to achieve their objective, it was empty.

I love using my acting training to inform my writing process. At the core of every character is their main intention. What do they want to achieve or have or do? These must be verbs of action! They can’t be stative or static verbs. 

How do they change and how does that struggle shape their goals?

So, I rebuilt the entire outline based on asking “What does Brent want?”

He wants to find a reason to live. His story is tragic, being abducted by the fairies at a young age, he struggled to reintegrate into society and he doesn’t know what his purpose it. 

I have been there, struggling to find a reason to live. In the story, he finds one. (no spoilers ;))

That is the core of the entire journey. 

So here are some questions that can be used to interrogate a story idea when starting out:

  • What does the main character want most of all?
  • Why don’t they have it now?
  • What do they need to do to get it?
  • Who or what stands in their way?
  • What do the people in opposition to them want? What are they willing to do to get it?
  • Who can help our hero?
  • What do they need to learn?

You could also turn these questions on yourself. What do you want? What do you need to do to get it? What stands in your way? What do you need to learn? Who can help you? 

Stories reflect life back to us. That is their power, and why I love them. It’s this eternal dialogue with the world, the self, and the soul that keeps me writing.

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