By Al Kalar
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. – Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
We’ll get back to this quote.
Fine. You know who your audience is, you can write well in your chosen language, and you know why you are writing your book (or pamphlet). Now we can start in on the elements of your story.
Developing Plot and characters
Some authors know where they are going and how they plan to get there. These “super writers” can carry around a complicated plot in their heads along with all the twists and turns they intend to include.
But most of us in the mundane world of scrivening are better off if we make a “map” of our plot.
At this point, you can work with any method that makes the most sense to you. It can be an outline of your plot or an actual drawing of your plot points and how they’re connected.
Whatever your choice, your plot will probably consist of the three basic elements:
- Start up and development
We’ll discuss each of these elements in a later post (Yes, yes, I said that before, but really, we’ll get there).
And when mapping a plot, remember Moltke’s quote. Your characters can make a plan that “goes south” when they try to implement it. This is often what makes a mundane story exciting. The bank robbery that fails, the battle plan that gets messed up by enemy actions, the love affair ruined by a third party, and so on.
You should know more about your characters than your readers.
So, what’s so earth shattering about that statement?
It’s a combination of two things:
- You should know your main characters as well as you can.
- You don’t necessarily have to tell your readers everything you know. Just because you went to so much trouble to create your characters doesn’t necessarily mean you have to bore your readers with more than they need to know. The work you did was so you can write confidently about this character and be consistent.
This only applies to your main characters. You don’t have to create a complete dossier on minor (supporting) characters. That’s overkill.
So, what should you do to develop a character?
- Body type
- Hair color and length
- Distinguishing marks or physical attributes (scars, large nose, tattoos, and so forth).
One easy way to create a character is to “cast” an actor in your character’s part. If your book were made into a movie, who would be the ideal actor (or acquaintance) to play the part of each character? You can choose from dead or live actors. The idea is to “set” the character in your mind. It also makes it easier to describe the character to a cover artist. Will it be Madonna or Sally next door? Brad Pitt, Gabby Hayes, or a grade school teacher from your past?
Next come mannerisms. Does your character have a quirk, such as rubbing his forehead when he’s disturbed or playing with a pencil when deep in thought? These things make a character more interesting and more three dimensional.
What’s each character’s background? Education, family, hardships or lack thereof, siblings, parent’s education and professions (if any). What made each character what s/he is today?
How does the character interact with other characters?
Does the character have a spiritual side? A political side?
What does your character like/dislike/hate (food, people, entertainment, sex, pets, tobacco, alcohol)?
The biggest problem you face is that your characters may “take over” your plot. Like von Moltke’s battle plans, contact with characters has destroyed many a well-designed plot. This often results in some of the best stories. However, if you allow the characters to run completely amok, you may produce one of the worst stories.
Remember, the ultimate person responsible for your story is you.