The Character-Driven Plot

 

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Here’s a baby turtle for the heck of it.

I began writing Song of Swans several months ago and was determined that it would be more character-driven than my other works. I wanted to get into the depths of my characters, to follow them and find out what happens via their actions.

 

This means that my outline has been smacked around quite a lot. I am currently on chapter five, but the things happening in it are things I meant to have in chapter three.

There are some people who would say that if it is truly character driven then I wouldn’t need an outline at all, I would just discovery write (aka – go by the seat of my pants) but I have found that I need an outline in order to get to the finish of a book.

SO!

For those of you fellow Outliner’s who might be reading this … I learned a trick that I thought I would share.

You see, once I finish writing the chapter – the actual chapter, not the outline – then I go through and I highlight all the things that have happened to my character and make a note of it in the margin. Then I go through everything that’s happened and I write down in my OUTLINE for the next chapter the things that still need to be addressed.

Example …

Cassy steals something in chapter 1. She isn’t a thief so there was already a debate about taking said item, but in the end her curiosity and hunger won out. MARGIN NOTE: Item has not been fully investigated yet.

Chapter 2 has her on the run, trying to get someplace safe before she opens said item and

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And some baby geese, too.

sees her loot. Unfortunately, she gets caught. MARGIN NOTE: Cassy got knocked on the head pretty good and likely has a mild concussion. ITEM STILL NOT INVESTIGATED.

 

Basically, anything highlighted in the margins of the previous chapter needs to be addressed in some fashion during the next chapter. Even if I don’t want to answer it yet, I have to at least mention it somewhere in the narrative.

This has had an unexpected benefit. While I might moan about the fact that I’m two full chapters longer than anticipated at this point, the flow is remarkable. I had always meant for the characters to get to where they are now – currently huddled in a cave, suffering from shellshock – but what is happening on the page is far deeper and makes more sense than what I had originally outlined.

Another thing I’ve had to do is take a step back, breathe, and really put myself in the room with my characters, to let them lead and show me what happens next.

As an author with several published novels under my belt, it seems strange that I would only just now be coming to this point in my writing, but it’s true. And the difference is undeniable.

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