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:
----- Original Message -----
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.


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

This is the technique I use when I have plenty of characters but no real story for them.

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.

THIS is the Key to balancing your characters!

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.

In a Traditional (English-language) Romance story, however, the roles change drastically. 
These Romances are traditionally told from the Female point of view and she does Not initiate the romance --or hardly anything else-- the Male character does. This is because 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 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. Cue: Happily Ever After.

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.
  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. (Sometimes before he catches her, sometimes after*.)  
  6.  She falls into mortal peril. (While attempting to fix her own problem.)
  7. He rescues her and confesses his love.
  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.

*If After: insert bodice-ripping love scene.

Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating, the plots really were this simple. 

More modern romances have the heroine rescue the hero in some way at the center of the story, and during this discover that she loves him. Even so, she still runs from his 'clutches' for quite a bit until he finally rescues her from some sort of mortal peril and confesses his love. She then admits that she loves him. Cue: Happily Ever After.

Anyway...!

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


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 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