Anonymous said: Dunno if you've answered this before, but do you have any advice for people who have created the characters, but lack a suitable plot?
Anonymous said: I know you must be boggled down with a lot of asks, but I need some help. I have a solid idea, which is usually what starts a story, but the problem is that while I like the aspect of it, I can’t sit down and create good characters to go into it. Do you have any advice for this?
I don’t usually answer two asks as one, but they’re essentially the same question, so I thought I’d put them together. I’ll also post the answer on the other ask so people can find it looking for that, too.
I will admit that I don’t usually have this problem, though when I do, I tend towards having the plot without the characters. Here’s how I look at it: characters are plot. Who your characters are should drive what happens in your story. Kind of.
The way I see it, there are two things that should drive your plot: characters and external actions.
Even though this is out of order (and I hate when that happens) I’m going to talk about external actions first. And there is a point to this. External actions, for the most part, should be not dependent on people. This can be natural, like a tornado, or man-made, like global warming. If there’s magic involved, it can also be magic-based, such as having some sudden shift in magic. Sometimes they can be based in human actions. This can be things like wars starting, general law shifts, or a school year starting. The main thing about external actions is that the man character can’t do anything about them.
The problem with actions like this is that they take away your character’s agency. While that may be the point, it also can make the story boring, which means that they must be used sparingly. That then brings you to character-driven events.
Character-driven events make up literally everything else that happens in the story. This is every decision that every character in your story makes. These should be based off of a few things:
What the character wants.
What the character doesn’t want.
What the character is afraid of.
The long term goals of the character.
The relationship the character has with any other character directly involved.
The relationship the character has with any other character indirectly involved and/or who might be affected.
Obviously, the bigger the decision is for the character to make, the more you need to worry about this stuff.
Now for why I just went through all of that:
If you have a plot with no characters, you already have the major external actions. You probably also have some people (unnamed blank slates, but people nonetheless) in your idea. For each of these people, figure out what you have them doing in your idea. This can be really broad, like you have them killing someone, joining an army, starting a new job, or looking for a relationship, or really specific, like you have them working up the courage to kiss their best friend, joining the chess club at school, or throwing peanuts at the teacher until they get detention. From each of those actions, you can reverse engineer the motivational factors I listed above and start to build a character from that.
If you have characters with no plot, then you have the character-driven actions without having the external actions. If you know all about your characters, then you essentially have them at a status quo. Maybe they’re all friends in high school, halfway through their sophomore year. If things go the way they are, nothing interesting will happen, so you need to change the status quo. Think of a few different possible external actions: one of them is forced to move, one of them dies, a new person starts at school, the school catches on fire, aliens invade, etc. and try them on to your characters. Using the motivational factors above (or anything else that you can think of), figure out what your characters would do. Once you do this, you can build a plot.
Obviously, there are a gazillion different ways to go about this. The way I described is fairly formulaic, and if formula doesn’t work for you (which is totally fine), then here are a few other suggestions:
Describe what you have to a friend. Talking through it might help shake something loose, and if it doesn’t, your friend might have some suggestions.
Write down a bunch of random ideas (either that you think or that you get from a generator) on pieces of paper and pick one at random. See if you like it for your story. If you don’t, pick another one.
Write a scene. It doesn’t need to be long, and it doesn’t need to end up in your final draft, but sometimes it helps to just start writing.