Plotting a novel


Plotting a novel graphic - Imperial typewriterIt looks easy when you read a novel with a great plot, but it's a lot harder when you're in the driving seat. It's the same when you hear a great song; easy to pick up and repeat, but you could spend your whole life trying to come up with anything better, or even comparable.

You don't always need a plot, mind; at least, nothing that is too obviously a plot. And this is where novels fall into two broad camps; character-driven stories, or plot-driven stories.

There's an important difference between the two.

Character-driven novels are pretty much as they sound; tales about character and how that character develops through the pages of your book.

Plot-driven novels are less about character development, and more about what happens beyond the character, ideally with all kinds of twists and turns.

Best of all, arguably, are novels that have great character development and a great plot. But these books are rare, and are hard to contrive. In fact, the act of contriving these kind of novels often results in a book that feels contrived, albeit very cleverly.

What's really needed is a contrived book with great plot and character that moves seamlessly through the pages with events and personality changes unfolding naturally and fluidly.

Character-driven stories, meanwhile, begin with (or at least are centred upon) a flawed character. Not necessarily weak. Just flawed. Or "human" if you prefer. Your character needs to have a goal, but is prevented from achieving that goal because of his or her internal conflicts.


Internal and inner conflicts

You might have a lead character (a white man) who needs a blood transfusion to save his life, but refuses to accept the only blood available, which happens to have come from a black man. There can be any number of reasons why the white man doesn't want black blood (or is can be vice versa, of course). It might be pure bigotry, or due to a murder in the family in which a black man (or white man) was the suspect, or because of racial tensions in a small town, or for religious reasons, or anything at all.

The important thing is to show an inner plot conflict, and then work to resolve that conflict in the narrative. There doesn't have to be a lot "happening". The drama might play out on a small "stage". Or the stage might be much larger. But unless your hero's character changes significantly throughout the story, it's not really a character-driven tale.

It may be that many characters change. Think of the film Twelve Angry Men (the original film with Henry Fonda). Here we have a jury charged with deciding the fate of a Puerto Rican boy accused of killing his father. Each of the 12 jurors brings his personal baggage into the jury room, and each character is skilfully disrobedwhich changes some, but not all, of the characters as the story progresses.

There is plot too including some very clever twists and turns. But essentially it's a character-driven tale set on a small stage. Theatre plays are usually (by necessity) character driven, whereas blockbuster movies are generally plot driven.



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Mr Edit YouTube videos


Meanwhile, here are some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you. Hope you enjoy them.

You Tube video for writers and authors


Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue




You Tube literary agent video help


Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary agent.




You Tube video - how to write fiction


Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.




You Tube video for authors and novelists


Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.



Links for writers


Preditors & Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.


Creative Helps. Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.


Nick Daws' Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it out.




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