What Effects Do Characters Have on Plot?

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov


Last week I discussed how I go about creating my characters. I feel I need to know my characters inside and out. If I’m asked a question about my character I should know how they will answer. Now different pieces come together in different order/ways. Sometimes I have the plot first, sometimes the character, or sometimes just a world. However, it’s my characters who dictate the rest of a piece.

When I present my characters with an obstacle I use my deep knowledge of them to determine how they would react, and then the consequences to that reaction. Sometimes this will completely derail a plotline, but 9 times out of 10 I’ll change the plot to make sense with what the character would do. This can be very frustrating as it means reworking my story outline, but to me that’s what makes a strong character is that every choice and action they make is true to who they are.

I love reading and analyzing how characters grow and changes throughout a story. So, when I’m writing I try to think of how the consequences of their actions affect them mentally, physically, and emotionally. In most of my stories my character arcs aren’t well defined and are much more organic than my other story elements. Every time something happens to a character I put it into the list of events in their past and add it to the collection of things that help me decide their choices.

Let me give you a short example to show my point. When Claire was twenty and in college she went to her first rock concert with a friend. While there she had the worst time, she had her wallet stolen, had someone vomit in front of her while in line for the bathroom, and sound system was terrible which made the music sound like it was coming through a tin can. So, when she’s been invited to go to a concert again she always declines. Through the plot of the story you put Claire at a rock concert and everything goes right, she gets to meet the band who are amazing, she hears all her favorite songs, and no one vomits. Now how might this make Claire react the next time she’s invited to a concert? Would it completely change her mind about concerts or is Claire more pragmatic than that and puts it in the “maybe” category of experiences? If I knew Claire as well as I knew most of my characters I would be able to answer this question if/when it arose.

Happy Writing!