Who’s driving: characters or plot?

drivingWhether you’re a plotter or a pantser (or, like me, somewhere in between), you probably have at least a vague idea of the major turning points in your story. But if you’re struggling to get from Point A to Point B, it may be because you’re too focused on the plot. Your characters should always drive the plot, not the other way around. When you let the plot take the wheel, you end up with passive characters who don’t always act the way readers would expect and a series of events that can feel contrived.

Whenever I get stuck on a project, I go back through the last few scenes and look at my characters’ emotional responses. Are they reasonable? Exaggerated? Nonexistent? Often when something isn’t working, it’s because the characters’ reactions aren’t lining up with the plot.

So the next time you’re stuck, instead of thinking, “What could get the story to x?”, consider “What brought my character(s) to this point, and what would bring them to x?” What actions would your characters logically take that would cause x to happen? When you figure that out, chances are you’ll figure out how to get yourself unstuck.

Have you found the plot taking the wheel on a project recently? How did you fix it?

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