Crafting Character-Driven Plots

THANN -twitter (415x415) I have often been accused of writing stories that are plot-driven. And I plead guilty as charged!

Blame it on my training in screenwriting, a medium where action is more important than words. As a screenwriter you learn to steer clear of emotions that are not “actionable” or do not push the story forward. So much so that writing introspective points-of-view that require digging deep into character motivations makes me break in a cold sweat.

When I started writing my second book, Trouble has a New Name for Harlequin’s Indian Author Collection Series, I decided to face-off with my fear of developing character-driven stories.

Here’s a quick and easy roundup of my journey and the lessons I learned along the way.

heart-142739_640Going for the K.I.S.S.

As far as plot was concerned, I would go with the KISS. And I don’t mean the hot, bone-melting, tongue-tango kind. Rather, the Keep It Simple Strategy. My strategy would be to create a logline (or premise) that was not too complicated and didn’t involve too many twists and turns in the plot.

Easier said than done—because I’m obsessive when it comes to outlining. Every beat, scene, turning point in the plot needs to be laid out in vivid detail.

After struggling with the KISS for weeks, I still couldn’t work out a single premise that was free of plot complications.

Lesson Learned #1: Start with the character and not the premise.

Taking inspiration from Chick-lit

Now that I knew I was going about KISS the wrong way, I decided on a new tack. Since my focus was on writing a character-driven story, I would begin with my Heroine. I turned to the chick-lit genre for inspiration. Heck, that wasn’t going to be any easier! Though I love the frothiness of a chick-lit, I’m not terribly fond of first person narratives. Sure, it makes you get deeper under the skin of the character, but the obsession with skin-deep stuff—brands, makeover and make-outs—wasn’t really my kind of writing. Call me old-fashioned but I love those sweeping romantic sagas that make you sigh and swoon. Yet, I so admire the frothy, light-hearted, fresh appeal of the chick-lit. Well, that’s me…mixed up!

Lesson Learned #2: Focus on characterizations rather than the writing style.

12323147_xxlMixing and Matching

I struggled to keep the confusion at bay that was turning my brain into mush. What use was a strategy without characters or plot? And since Sophie Kinsella’s quirky heroines were still doing their merry little dance in my head, I decided to create my own goofy heroine.

Here’s what I came up with: Rayna Dutt, an up-and-coming model is a firm believer of Murphy’s laws which she calls Rayna’s Book of Immutable Laws (RBIL). More often than not these laws come back to bite her in the butt.

As Rayna’s character began to take shape, I discovered something totally fascinating…Rayna’s ‘impulsive’ character trait was beginning to drive some of the situations that would land her in trouble. And her ‘immutable laws’ were providing the plot points. Here’s a little illustration:

RBIL #3 Turbulence, emotional turmoil and tequila make for a lethal combination.

She leaped out of her seat, hand clamped hard against her mouth and dashed for the washroom. But one of her flip-flops caught the back of the seat and she flailed her arms to grab something—anything. Just then the stewardess emerged, balancing a tray containing a pitcher of orange juice and savoury snacks. Rayna clutched at the hostess’s arm as she desperately tried to save herself from hitting the floor of the plane face first and throwing up at the same time. But the pitcher had no such luck. It headed southwards and Rayna cringed as its contents splashed all over Mr. Deductive Logic. She heard him mutter a savage curse and then felt his strong arm steady her. Breaking free, she made it to her destination and threw up into the toilet bowl in the nick of time. Hey Bhagwan! (Oh God!) She was living her worst nightmare ever!

Lesson Learned #3: Use character traits to develop situations that would move the story forward.

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About Adite

Author & Screenwriter
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