Plot is character; character is plot and so on and round and round we go to infinity. Also, you know, you’re not Amit Chaudhuri, you can’t have an entire book written about a place with the people as a pleasing but secondary feature. You need a gang. You need a protag. You need a bad guy. You need their mums, their buddies, their pets.
As Catriona Ward said in her video from the last blog, you need to decide who your main character is and what they want. All stories are stories of an unfulfilled need and the quest to fulfil it. Want to create a plot in a 60 seconds? Make your character want something and then don’t let them have it.
Of course, real plots of real books are much more complicated, and further on in the course we’ll see that scenes and chapters are made up of a number of characters with opposing motivations all competing for what they want.
But right now we’re laying down the first of many layers, so we’re just going to look at your protagonist. All things will flow from this person and what their story necessitates.
One more thing before we launch into the next exercise. You may not really know who this person is yet – not on the profound level you’re going to need to get to know them to write their story. That’s fine. Writing people is a lot like meeting them. You have an initial impression, but you only really get to know them when you hang out with them a bit more. (The main difference, we hope, is that you don’t have a deep sense of fulfilment and joy when you finally get to kill them.)
At this point, you are completely free to write really rubbish sounding stuff like:
- There’s a guy called Darren or maybe Bob and he likes cheese. Like, really likes it.
- She’s a bit like my mum but I really don’t want anyone to notice that, and also a bit like Geena Davis, and she’s really fed up with domestic stuff and wants to have adventures and find the meaning of life. Her name is Sharon. Gillian. Lucy. Definitely Sharon.
Enough waffle, here’s what you’re going to do:
- Decide who your protagonist is. Write a super brief description down (see above).
- Decide what they want most in the world. Write it down.
- Write down a handful of the most notable things about your character (NB: as far as possible, avoid physical characteristics. No one gives a flying hoozit what colour eyes your new human has, or how tall they are, unless they’re like 40 foot tall or have lasers for eyes. People aren’t interested in who you are so much as they are interested in what you do).
- Take 15 minutes and turn all this lovely information into a paragraph, or two, or a page, or some scrawled notes.
- Now go write a list of the other important people in this story: your protags partner, BFF, boss, the wise old bearded woman who gives them the amulet which starts them on their quest, their talking pet goldfish, etc etc and so on forever. Then go back to point 2 and point 3 and if you’re feeling really enthusiastic also do point 4 but mostly by this point you’ll be wanting a cup of tea and for everyone to go away.
- Do the cup of tea thing and relax.
You know roughly what you want to write about. You kinda know who you want to write about. From the little information we’re starting with, what else do you already know about your world and your cast? What friends and family does your protag have? What other aspects of world building is there to do? Is the path ahead looking like it makes sense or are you hiding behind a chair crying at the coming onslaught of fictional psyches?
So what happens next? You keep on writing. Or you check out our 5-star novel outlining online Plotstormers course. But mostly you just keep on writing.
Want more free advice? Check out the rest of the ‘So you want to write a novel, huh?’ blog series HERE.