Tuesday, October 1, 2013

plot and character: a story of codependency

Plot and Character: a story of codependency that works for me…
Henry James, as quoted by Franny Billingsley in a post on Cynsations, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
You go Henry.
 I suppose I had vague notions of the connection between plot and character not long after I began writing. John Gardner tried to tell me in his books on writing and I’m sure others did too, including myself.  Maybe I even understood, on an intellectual level, that there needed to be a connection.
But it was Robert Olen Butler that really got through to me with his talk about a character’s desire driving plot. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character and relationships and all that. Writing is never, ever, about just one thing. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development  as a writer.
In Franny Billingsley’s blog post she talks about a character’s controlling belief directing plot.  See the link to read but the main idea is a character sees herself and/or world in such a way that it defines the character’s attitude, self-image, choices. These, in turn, direct the story.This is helpful, I think, in finding one’s way through the vast possibilities of any story.

But here’s my crucial point—one that was a big part of my pushing forward as a writer. Character is not separate from plot. What a character does, he does because of who he is—how he sees himself & his world and what he wants and what he really wants-- and in a novel what he does causes things to happen to him and all those around him. The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive-- again and again in both small and large ways, builds a story.
Or so I think today


Unknown said...

Whenever I tell a story, I always come up with the lesson I want to expound upon and then think up a conflict that will (for better or for worse) showcase that lesson. Then I imagine the main character. I think of what he/she look like, acts like, believes in, dreams of, how does he/she think, what are his/her morals and values? I, then, envision the character in the situation and tell the story on how I think he or she would respond. It usually starts and ends generally where I wanted it too, but the middle it just as much a surprise to me as to my audience (my children).
I think plot and character agreement are integral to any well written story and present in every good book I have ever read. I need to connect with the character, get to know him or her and then believe he or she would do what the story says he or she did. Even in a poorly articulated story, if you have this, it is a good read. IMHO

Brian Yansky said...

Interesting. I'm always amazed by the variation in the way authors work.