Is Your Plot a Prison for Your Characters?

I’m currently in the middle of finishing off a three book series.  I can say that I’m chugging along nicely, and the plot sketch I roughed out in the beginning stages is starting to take shape.

However, I have had to take a deep look recently at whether or not the plot I have devised has become a prison for my characters.  After some bitter soul searching, I have determined that a few of the characters need to take a road out of the main plot in order for them to be more interesting.

Do you have this problem?

The fact is that if the characters in your novel are not believable, then the plot won’t matter.  Alfred Hitchcock once discussed “the macguffin”, a plot device that the audience doesn’t care about but which drives the story along.

The point is that character interaction, character development should take a back seat to plot.  The plot should be driven by where the characters go as people (or as aliens in my case) not the other way around.

If we can let our characters live their lives on the page, we can create more engaging stories because readers identify with characters and not plot.

A few instances in fiction that illustrate this point:

  • George’s decision to shoot Lennie at the end of Of Mice and Men.
  • Willy Loman’s infidelity that turns every plot point in Death of a Salesman.
  • Walter White’s downward spiral into crime that drives all plot points in Breaking Bad.
  • Jimmy McGill’s desire to stretch from under his brother’s shadow in Better Call Saul.

And I could list several more, but I think you get the point.  Character driven stories are what most people desire because they reach out past the printed words on the page and touch our soul.  Nobody’s soul was ever touched by a cool plot twist.  It is always better to drive a story with character development.

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