Friday, April 22, 2011

Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript: Characters and Plot

In the first post of this series, I likened a well-rounded story to the game of bowling. Each pin equals one important aspect of a manuscript and the goal is to knock down all the pins, therefore touching on each element of a story to make it as polished and complete as possible.

We discussed the first pin as voice - you can check out the post here - and today I'm talking about the next row of pins. Just two pins but very important to a story. Characters and Plot.

These two elements of a story are most successful if each is planned and/or written with a purpose.


A well-rounded and effective story cannot be created without characters, and not just any random characters, but characters with depth and intent. One of the simplest ways to approach this is the well-known GMC method.

Goal - What does your character want?

Motivation - Why does your character want this?

Conflict - What's going to stop your character from reaching their goal?

But beyond that, what other tricks can be used to help develop fully rounded characters?

Character sheets - listing anything or everything from appearance and characteristics to likes, dislikes, and background

Character interviews - approach getting to know your character like an interview, asking them questions about their past or their interests right now, even write it down to discover character traits and how they act while answering certain questions.

Invented scenes with your characters - either write your character from a different POV or drop them in a random scene and do something like a free write to learn more about their personality


Plot execution is an important aspect of story-telling and being able to do it well can take a ho-hum plot and bring it alive. So what are some ways this can be done?

Let voice touch your plot - even a used idea can become new and interesting with a fresh voice and unique perspective

Advance the story with intent - know where the story is going and use each scene to get there, trying to avoid loose, unproductive scenes

Use an organized approach - try the Snowflake Method, the three act story structure, a helpful plotting book, or your own method to create a whole and fluid plot outline

Again, plot and characters are right up there with voice. These three carry your novel. Executing plot and creating characters is most effective when each have a purpose at every point in the story.

What do you think are the most important parts of a novel? What tricks do you use to help create fluid plots and well-rounded characters?


Jennifer Shirk said...

Oooh, they're all important. LOL
Although, I just finished reading a series of books that I really loved and realized the only reason I was really reading was because of the characters. There wasn't much plot or conflict--yet I HAD to read all four books in the series. Weird, huh? So I'm going to say characters are most important. (to me) :)

Keli Gwyn said...

I consider myself a character-driven writer, and yet I've come to realize that plot is every bit as important as the characters who people the story. My goal now is to push myself in the area of plot so I end up with a story that features such well drawn characters and such a well developed plot that I satisfy readers who are partial to either character-driven or plot-driven stories. I'm learning what a tall order that is, though. =)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Once in a very great while, I read a book where the characters stay with me long after "The End." These books become some of my favorites, my go-back-and-read-again books. Yes, plot is important because if there's no "why" then your whole story sags and wanders and trails off. But before you dive into that story, you've got to care about the people involved.
I think to do this, you have to go beyond the basic questionnaires that ask about eye color and favorite Starbucks drink. You have to get to the hearts of your hero and heroine--their hopes, their fears. After all, that's what drives real people to do they things they do. Shouldn't that be true in our fiction?

Mary Vee Writer said...

I agree with Beth that the main reason I go back to read a book again is because of a character. The plot is captured the first time, but when the character is developed he/she can progress into a type of friend. Someone you want to get to know more. When I read the book the second and third time, I notice more about the character. As a writer I need to infuse the deeper traits mentioned by Beth using practice skills Cindy touched on in the interview and invent the scene suggestion.
Great post:)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jennifer, I agree! Sometimes characters make the book and we're addicted even without having a super amazing plot to keep us going.

Keli, that's one of the big challenges, isn't it? Finding that balance of what all readers are going to want or enjoy. I think we're all naturally better at one or the other - writing plots or writing characters.

Well put, Beth. Modeling characters after what we're drawn to and what moves us in real life is a great way to pull readers into caring for our characters. Getting to the heart is what it's all about!

Hi, Mary! I'm a big character person, too. When I read a book with a fabulous plot, I remember whipping through the pages, wanting to know what's going to happen but I don't remember much else unless there was a wonderful character that guided me through the adventure. This is a great thing to think about when planning our books to appeal to readers.

Have a great weekend!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I feel like I'm more of a plot driven writer, but I would love to be more character driven. It is something I need to work on. :) Great post!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, I think we all tend toward one side or another. I enjoy writing great characters but tend to let life happen to them. I think if writing plot driven stories was more of a strong suit for me then maybe I'd have stronger characters, so that's something I need to work on, too. There's always something to learn with writing, isn't there :)

Christine Long said...

I am using Scrivner to help keep all my scenes in order. I just started using Susan May Warren's "From the Inside Out" and "The Book Buddy." I'm seeing things about my story I've never seen before.

All the posts here have been helpful as well. Thank you so much for posting!