A Story is Driven by Characters

A Story is Driven by Characters


 “Kill the plot-driven story with fire.”


By Millie Ho

See her fiction in Vol. IV #6

millie-ho-author-artist-illustrator1A plot-driven story sucks. It is not a story but a sequence of events. It is a terrible thing that will make you claw your hair out trying to make all the details fit while retaining reader interest. I had a tough two weeks plotting my Long-Suffering Manuscript (LSM) because I was exercising too much control over the story instead of transferring that control over to my characters.

And it’s all because of something I call The Found Situation.

For example: a character suddenly finds him or herself in a Situation, and spends the rest of the story navigating that Situation instead of being an active participant. This is a popular formula in stories about institutions, such as students going to a special school, or stories where you are assigned a task and forced to follow instructions on how to reach the objective.

The latest plot of my LSM followed The Found Situation formula. Things went according to plan. Logic preceded emotions. Characters did X because without X, they couldn’t get to Y, and Y had to exist so that nothing went off the rails.

Boring.

A character does not just find him or herself in a situation.

They drive, run, walk, or crawl there.

When I removed the intricate step-by-step plotting and focused purely on characters (traits, motivations, goals, conflicts), the plot started coming together. The characters had more agency. They allowed themselves to make mistakes. Small details I’d been struggling to link together or use in future chapters suddenly became inconsequential.

Why was I doing all that extra work?

The plot is not where the heart of the story is.

Characters. It’s all about the characters.

Characters pull the trigger and stab you in the back.

A plot does not.

Characters are unpredictable and irrational.

A plot is not.

I’m currently plotting Chapter 9 out of (roughly) 28.

I’m now following characters, not calculations.

And it’s never been more face-meltingly fun.

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