Henry James said, “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—classics often used in writing classes and used in one I took in college-- 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 the plot of a novel or story. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character, her history, her inner-life, attitudes, relationships to others, their world, their wants, their needs and desires (especially as relates to the story they’re in) and more. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development as a writer.
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, she does because of who she is—how she sees herself & her world and what she wants and what she needs-- and what she does as a result of these desires causes things to happen to her and creates story. She’s acting because she wants something or wants to avoid something BADLY (you need the badly; you need it to matter. If it does, then it will matter to the reader.).
The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive—in both small and large ways builds both character and story.
TAKEAWAY--You build character in many ways but one way helps you build story as well. What does your character want, desire, need? What gets in the way? That friction develops character and creates conflict which drives plot.
Thanks for reading. Also, I’m giving away my latest novel—A True Story from a Parallel Universe—on amazon on Wednesday, September 30. If you’d like a free copy on that day only—