From character to plot

Consider this quotation: “Plot is about the word so, not the word and. It’s about because of the reason given; consequently; with the result that; in order that. . . . ‘When a character does something, he becomes that character; and it’s the character’s act of doing that becomes your plot.’ Can we, then, define plot as characters in action? Well, it’s a start. The action must be motivated, of course, must be causally sequential, must be credible, must be compelling. . . . Every action in the plot needs to be motivated, even if the motivation seems horrific or inexplicable. Reasonless action undermines plot. Plot is all about motive.”

–John Dufresne

Thinking about stories in “3D” (i.e desire + danger = drama) can be an effective way to give them a tentative structure or plot.

The prompts below will help you start generating a character-driven plot.

  1. What is the character’s desire?
  2. What action will this specific character take to reach that desire? (Just a quick, brief summary; you can make a scene later.)
  3. What “danger” keeps the character from satisfying that desire?
  4. How would this specific character respond to this specific danger? (Just a quick, brief summary; you can make a scene later.)
    • How does that response get them closer to what they want? What new, more-dangerous danger presents itself as a result of the character’s response? How might it complicate the story? Think of the phrase “yes, but . . .” (Just a quick, brief summary; you can make a scene later.)
    • OR
    • How does that response move them farther from what they desire? What new, more-dangerous danger presents itself as a result of the character’s response? How might it complicate the story? Think of the phrase “no, and . . .” (Just a quick, brief summary; you can make a scene later.)
  5. Thinking of your story, repeat number 4 at least two more times.
  6. What new action ends the danger? How does that action change everything, so that no new dangers can arise? (Just a quick, brief summary; you can make a scene later.)
  7. What happens when the character gets what he or she wants?

Consider these questions as well:

  1. What would the character NOT do to get what they want?
  2. What are the consequences of the character’s desires and efforts to get what they want for other characters? For how the character thinks of him or herself? How does the character cope with those consequences?
  3. How is this character’s heart in conflict with itself as the character tries to satisfy his or her desires?
  4. What dilemmas might this character face as he or she encounters dangers?
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