I’d like to go into a brief exploration into the relationship between character and plot, and how they relate to the overall effectiveness of a story.
To start things off, let’s first narrow down what we as readers expect from a story. One of the first things that comes to my mind is that I don’t want my time to be wasted. I want the story to be interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining. So what is it that makes a story interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining?
A Story is About Something That Matters
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t amazingly written stories about trivial circumstances. There are. But the reason that those stories succeed is because the author has made the reader believe that whatever happens does in fact matter, regardless of what that should be. And who does it matter to, you ask? Why should you care?
The Character Matters
This is what makes you keep turning the page. You want to find out what happens next because you have been made to care about the main character in some way. Maybe you sympathize with them and relate to their struggle, or maybe they seem malicious and you want them to get what’s coming. Either way, the author has created an imaginary person who manages to get you to feel something for them. That is, some would say, the greatest accomplishment a writer can achieve.
Character and Plot
This is where it can get a bit confusing. In a way, you cannot talk about character without bringing up plot, and vice versa.
Let’s take a look at plot first. Plot is not merely what happens in a story, but why. Meaning, that there is a big difference between simply rendering in chronological order: this happened, then this, then this…, and taking the reader through a journey as to why and how a particular event occurred. Plot involves the specific ordering of how a series of events is revealed so as to wring as much emotion and meaning from it as possible.
Now in order to capture our attention, plot has to follow character. Otherwise, novels would read more like outlines or storyboards. Merely stating what happens isn’t what gives us the satisfaction as readers. Above, I mentioned the why and how that makes plot stand out. Character is where the why and how come from.Who a person is and what happens to them influences what they choose to do. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it rings true in the context of story. The way I see it, character and plot come together to create story.
So, why does this all matter and what can you do with it? If you’re looking for an answer as to how to start writing a story, or where it all begins, you’ll have to look someplace else. I don’t really have that answer. It seems that in my own work sometimes an interesting series of events hits me, but I find creating a character to fit into them difficult to do. Other times, the character will come first, but I’ll have trouble finding things for them to do. It’s a godsend when you’re hit with both at the same time.
I think the best advice that I can give is to practice. Write what sounds fun. Write what you’d like to read. And don’t forget to experiment with new ways to approach your writing. You never know when it will lead to something bigger.