Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Write - Character and Plot Development

Welcome to the second installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A bunch of talented writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.  (Oh, and there's still time to enter the CynthiaJenniferCynthia contest -- click here to win SIGNED copies of Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith, To Find A Wonder by Jennifer Carson, and Rules by Cynthia Lord.)

I have a complete YA novel of approximately 68K words.  It is largely inspired by my own teenage years growing up on a golf course.  It's always easiest for me to "write what I know."  I am inspired by my family and friends—in other words, people I know really well and love dearly.  It’s easy to write realistic fiction using characters you know. Character traits and habits, quirks, mannerisms – are all things that make a character real.  And are all things that are easily observed in daily life.
For example, an important scene in my novel takes place during a rainstorm – the boy comes to the rescue of the female protagonist who is wearing a white T-shirt and drenched (and we all know what happens when you wear a white T-shirt in the rain, right?).  This happened to me in “real” life (long, long ago) –and the chivalrous boy of my teenage dreams grabbed a spare shirt out of his bag and tossed it to me.   


It’s ever so much more exciting if he actually removes his shirt, isn't it?  In my story, because of the setting (a golf course) he can’t be shirtless.  My husband has always had a quirky habit to wear an undershirt under a golf shirt or polo shirt.  So it made sense for Scott to have this quirky habit as well – it allows him to take his shirt off without exposing himself.

Make sense? Use the personalities of people you know! 

Once I know who my characters are, I list their likes and dislikes, details about their lives, habits and nuances.  Sometime they surprise me.

As far as plot development, I sometimes struggle with that.  I've been using a sort of modified snowflake method. I start by writing a short sentence of the plot, followed by a longer synopsis, and then (hopefully) weave it into some semblance of something interesting. ;)

How do you come up with your characters and plot?


Anonymous said...

Hee hee. I focused mainly on plot because to talk about characters is almost a separate post. And I'd reached my word limit! Basing characters somewhat on people we know is a great idea.

Tatiana Caldwell said...

Great idea about using the personalities of people you know to create characters. I supposed you'd want to to make sure to mix and match traits so that can't go "hey, is this book about ME?" if they read it one day.

I use the snowflake method for plotting /outlining too, but I figured I'd discuss that further in a later segment.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Yes, I like that too. The people we know becoming fodder for our character. I do that sometimes, especially for particular quirks.And as for plot--WA! I need help. I mentioned the snowflake method too!

Kendal Corbitt said...

Oh interesting post. I will have to check out that snowflake method as someone else recently mentioned it to me also and I see so do Tatiana and Tina.

Ansha said...

Crazy Windows 7... I'm still learning.
Great post. I use everyone in my life to create my characters. Little pieces of everyone... And of course each character comes out of my crazy brain, so there has to be a bit of me in there too. But nothing is cooler than when they surprise you while you're writing them.

Kris said...

Thanks all. Sounds like we all use modified Snowflake -- I was thrilled when I discovered it. It makes the whole process that much easier to manage without getting overwhelmed.

Kay said...

I hadn't heard of the snowflake method, but it sounds like something I might check out--especially when I'm struggling through a stuck part like I am now.

I also like the idea of character sheets. I've been going back and doodling some of that with my characters. It helps me know what they might choose now if I know where they have come from.

Gail Roarke said...

I've tried the snowflake method, but as anyone who's read my post can tell you, it didn't work for me. I can't write out a plot ahead of time and make it work.

As for character sheets (bios, etc), I tend to create those after the fact--to keep the details straight later on.

Faith E. Hough said...

This is very helpful and interesting! Thanks!

Kris said...

Kay - try it, it's helpful!

Gail - but it doesn't work for everyone. ;)

Faith - thanks for stopping by!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I've found these 'how I write posts' so interesting! I mean its great to see how we all arrive at the same ends but by different paths and methods. I agreee, it's easier for me to 'write what I know' too.