Sunday, March 15, 2015

Strong Characters but a Weak Plot?

 Secret Place by Dawn Elaine Darkwood

----- Original Message -----
...I have very strong characters, but a very weak plot. While my story is primarily character driven, I feel I feel I put them in a place where there's not much plot, or that the plot itself is uninteresting. How do make my plot stronger? Furthermore, how do I find a balance between plot and characters? Or is it okay that my plot isn't gripping, as long as I have strong, well-developed characters?
 What should you do when you have
Strong Characters but a Weak Plot?

First, I think we should clarify what Character-Driven means.

Character-Driven does NOT mean:
A story that focuses on the characters.

Character-Driven means: 
A story's events happen because the Characters choose (or refuse) to make things happen. In other words; the story's Plot is Driven by the events caused by the characters.

Examples of Character-Driven stories: 
'Hero' stories where the character volunteers to be a hero such as Iron Man, Batman, the Harry Potter series, How to Train your Dragon, and most Romance stories such as; Miss Congeniality, Secretary, Pride & Prejudice.

In comparison:

Plot-Driven means: 
A story's events happen because the world around the characters makes things happen to the characters. In other words; the story's Plot is Driven by the events happening to the characters.

Examples of Plot-Driven stories: 
Hero stories where the hero is pushed into being a hero whether they want to or not such as Spiderman, Pitch Black, most broad-range High fantasy stories such as The Sandman graphic novel series, The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Shannara, Lord of the Rings books and movies, and most Science-Fiction such as Brave New World, Equilibrium, The Matrix, Soylant Green, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica.

To simplify:
  • If the Characters make things happen to each other and/or the World around them it's Character-Driven.
  • If the World around them makes things happen to the Characters it's Plot-Driven
Now that we have that straight, on with your questions!

----- Original Message -----
How do make my plot stronger? Furthermore, how do I find a balance between plot and characters? Or is it okay that my plot isn't gripping, as long as I have strong, well-developed characters?

Let's start with this:
"Is it okay that my plot isn't gripping, as long as I have strong, well-developed characters?"

NO, it's Not Okay.

No matter how interesting your characters are, if they're in a boring story your characters will seem boring too. To show off interesting characters, they have to DO interesting things. A cool back-story is Not Enough.

Example:
Batman, Spiderman, and Iron man were fishing on the bank of a river. As a result of the smart-assed comments passed around between them, an argument broke out over whose superpower was best. To decide, each one one caught a fish using their superpowers. Still unable to decide, they went home.

Boring.

Why? Because even though we had 3 interesting and engaging superheroes, they didn't really do anything but fish. Sure, the dialogue between them was probably pretty awesome, but honestly? You could have told the same story with 3 old men, 3 little kids, or 3 grannies. In fact it actually would have been a better story if the 3 old men, 3 little kids, or 3 grannies had used superpowers to fish.

Those three superheroes were WASTED on this story.

To put it bluntly:
If you're going to use super characters,
you need a super Story to show them off.


"How do make my plot stronger? Furthermore, how do I find a balance between plot and characters?"


To Make a PLOT Stronger:
Add More Problems for Them to Solve.
AKA: Add More CONFLICTS.

In other words... 

What's the Worst Thing that could happen? Make that happen! (AKA: Murphy's Law)

"So where do you Get this Worse Thing that could happen?"
From your Characters.

Begin here...

Who are your
3 Main Characters?
  • the Main character:
  • the Ally or Middle-man character:
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character:
This doesn't mean you can't have a huge cast of characters! Simply that these are the 3 that the main story focuses on.

Examples from Anime:


In Hellsing (Plot-Driven) the 3 characters are thus:
  • the Main character: Sir Integra Hellsing
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: Seres Victoria
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character: Alucard
Until an actual Villain is added, then the cast changes to:
  • the Main character: Alucard
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: either Sir Integra OR Seres Victoria; depending on the scene they're in
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character: Guest Villain

In Full Metal Alchemist (sometimes Plot-driven, sometimes Character-driven depending on the episode,) the 3 characters are thus:
  • the Main character: Edward Elric
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: Alphonse Elric
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character: Colonel Mustang
Until an actual Villain is added, then the cast changes to:
  • the Main character: Edward Elric
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: Alphonse Elric, Colonel Mustang, or guest Victim
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character: Guest Villain
Keep in mind that Hellsing and Full Metal Alchemist are both Series stories so new characters are constantly being introduced as Victims (Ally characters) and as Villains to expand the story.

The idea behind all this is:

The better you know your Characters' Problems, 
the easier it is to make MORE Problems for them to solve.


In a Traditional (Bodice-Ripper) Romance story, the roles change drastically

In a Traditional Romance, the 3 Main Characters look like thus:
  • the Main character: Heroine
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: His best friend and/or Her best friend.
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character: Hero
These Romances are traditionally told from the Female point of view and the Heroine does Not initiate the romance --or hardly anything else-- the Male character does. This is because these stories were invented (and codified) during the 1700's and 1800's where a female that was 'forward' about her affections was considered to be 'impolite', 'pushy' and low-class. Since most of these stories featured high-society females; lost princesses, impoverished Ladies, and down-trodden heiresses, being 'pushy' was not something they would do. Only female Villains acted that way.

Keep in mind that the original romances were written by 18th and 19th century middle-class authors Fantasizing about how they thought high-class noble ladies would act. It proved so popular an 'ideal' that this fantasy of nobility persists today.

So! If the Heroine never initiated the first move...
How did Romance happen?

It started with some sort of Event where the two crossed paths, and the Hero decided that he wanted the Lady's . . . company, (think: Cinderella.) The rest of the story consisted of the many ways the Heroine sought to 'escape his clutches' until he finally rescues her from some sort of mortal peril and confesses his love. She then decides that she loves him. He fixes the story's major conflict and Cue: Happily Ever After.

Traditional Romance in detail:
   1) They cross paths during an Event. (Normally during an attempt to deal with her Problem.)
   2) He decides he wants her . . . company. (Despite certain personal problems.)
   3) She decides she wants nothing to do with him. (She has her own problems.)
   4) He seeks to get her into his clutches.
   5) She escapes -- repeatedly. (Sometimes before he catches her, sometimes after. If After: insert bodice-ripping love scene.)
   6) She falls into mortal peril. (While attempting to fix her own problem.)
   7) He rescues her and confesses his love. (Insert: Major Love Scene.)
   8) She decides that she's in love. (Or that she's been in love since their first encounter.)
   9) He voluntarily fixes her problem for her, as a wedding gift.
   10) Marriage and Happily Ever After.
Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating, the plots really were this simple, (and that sexist; the Hero does all the heavy-lifting.)
Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating, the plots really were this simple. 

Modern Romances are a tad bit Different. 

More Modern Romances have the Heroine rescue the Hero (or they rescue each other) from some sort of mortal peril at the center of the story, and during this discovers that she loves him. Even so, she still runs from his 'clutches' for quite a bit until he admits that he loves her. Deciding to fight together, they solve the story's major conflicts and Cue: Happily Ever After.

Modern Romance in detail:
   1) They cross paths during an Event. (Normally during an attempt to deal with her Problem.)
   2) He decides he wants her . . . company. (Despite certain personal problems.)
   3) She decides she wants nothing to do with him. (She has her own problems.)
   4) He seeks to get her into his clutches. (Insert: Seduction Scene.)
   5) She escapes -- repeatedly. (Sometimes before he catches her, sometimes after. If After: insert love scene.)
   6) He or They Both fall into mortal peril. (While attempting to fix their own problems.)
   7) She rescues Him or they rescue Each Other. (Insert: Major Love Scene.)
   8) She decides that she's in love, or that she's been in love since their first encounter, but still runs from him.
   9) At next encounter, he admits that he's in Love. Cue: Double Confession and they find a way to fix their problems Together.
   10) Happily Ever After or Happily For Now.

Yaoi Romances 
tend to have a bit more in common with Bodice-Ripper Romances.
They generally start with some sort of Event where the two cross paths, and both are immediately attracted to each other. One decides that they will do anything to have the other's . . . company. The next part of the of the story consists of the many ways the Pursued seeks to 'escape his Pursuer's clutches'. At the center of the story, The Pursuer rescues the Pursued from some sort of Peril and takes that chance to reinstate his attraction, usually forcefully. During this time the Pursued admits to themselves that it might be more than mere Attraction. It might be love. (Oh Noes!) Cue more running from 'clutches' until the pursuer admits that they're in Love. Insert Double Confession. Deciding to fight together, they solve the story's major conflicts and Cue: Happily Ever After.

Yaoi Romance in detail:
   1) They cross paths during an Event. (Normally during an attempt of each dealing with a Problem.)
   2) One decides he wants the Other's . . . company, usually with a stolen Kiss. (Despite certain personal problems.)
   3) The Pursued decides he wants nothing to do with his Pursuer. (He has his own personal problems.)
   4) The Pursuer gets the Pursued into his clutches. (Insert: Seduction Scene.)
   5) The Pursued escapes -- repeatedly. (Sometimes before he catches him, sometimes after. If After: Insert aggressive love scene.)
   6) One or the Other or They Both fall into mortal peril. (While attempting to fix their own problems.)
   7) The Pursued rescues their Pursuer, or they rescue Each Other. (Insert: Major Love Scene.)
   8) The Pursued decides that they're in love, or that they've been in love since the first encounter, but still runs from their Pursuer.
   9) At next encounter, the Pursuer admits that he's in Love. Cue: Double Confession, and they find a way to fix their problems Together.
   10) Happily Ever After or Happily For Now.


So...! What should you do with
Your cast of characters?

Once you decide who your 3 Main Characters are:
  • the Main character:
  • the Ally or Middle-man character: 
  • the Villain or Trouble-maker character:

Ask EACH character these 3 questions:
1. Who am I, and what do I do?
2. What do I want?
3. What is the Worst thing that could happen to me?

Once you know the answers to these three questions, you pretty much have your whole story.
  • By combining the 1's you have the Opening scene to your story. 
  • By combining the 2's you have your External Conflicts scenes (what the character DO and what happens TO the characters,) and your Internal Conflict scenes (how they Feel about what's happening.) 
  • By combining the 3's you have your Main Character's Ordeal/Self-Sacrifice scene; the one thing they don't want to do, but have to (often to survive,) and your potential Climax scene.
Do not be afraid to change things around or adjust things to suit the story you want to tell.

Do Not Forget....!

A story cannot END until the Main character's problem AND the Ally character's problem have been Solved!

Morgan Hawke