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Is Your Main Character Driving Your Novel?

Plot doesn't drive your novel, character does that.

Try and think of a book where that isn’t the case. Think of a story that really sucked you in that had nothing to do with the characters who were living out that story.

I bet you can’t.

The truth is, it’s the likable or relatable or interesting character that sucks your reader in.

What are they going to do? How are they going to get through this mess? How will they come out on the other side?

These are the questions that readers stick around to get answered, not whether the world is going to get saved or not.

So, if your character is the anchor, then their development and the choices they make are important and necessary to the plot of your novel.

If your character is young and immature, the choices they make are not going to make a lick of sense, most of the time. They’re going to have ill-placed bravado, they will most likely throw caution to the wind, be completely blindsided when consequences arise, act impulsively with irrational emotions.

…wait, this actually sounds like an adult I know…

Anyway, the point is, to make your plot believable and your choices natural, you need to know your character. Which mean sitting down and mapping them out. It sounds easy enough, but depending on how deep you go, it could get pretty sticky and frustrating.

Your character is your foundation. We’ve established that. So, if you make clear who your character is within the first few chapters, you won’t have to explain the choices they make going forward to the reader. It will be obvious that they should have chosen that. And if you know your character that well, then writing and making those choices for them will be a smooth ride, too.

Consider your character’s:

  • Goals. What do they want?

  • Motivation. The driving force behind the goal. What keeps them going. Why do they want that goal? What is pushing them towards it? How do they think that goal will affect them? What is the hold inside of them that they are unknowingly always trying to fill? Acceptance? Love?

  • Conflict. Both internally and externally. Everyone has conflict within themselves. Your character does, too. Much of it will have nothing to do with their goal or motivation, but some of it will affect it, heavily. Make sure you bring to light, through an example, of what that conflict is. Is it self-perception? Is it a specific relationship? Is it a traumatic past? Then you have the external conflict, with an actual person. Or force. That other object is your antagonist that will be keeping your character from their goal

  • Reactions. How does your character react to certain categories or setbacks or situations? Sketch those out.

  • Need. Which is completely different than your character’s want, or goal. The need is what they get to fix their internal conflict. This is the thing that, even if they don’t get their goal, it’s okay, because they’ve found their need, and things will end up okay

  • Voice. This is how your character comes across to your reader. This is also a really good in-your-face (in a good way) exposure to your character’s personality and a great hint about how they’re going to react to situations that arise during the book. Are they snarky? Goal-orientated? Do they mask discomfort with humor? Are they truthful? Do they take charge or try to avoid things until it’s absolutely necessary to confront them?

Do you see how each of these things is key into developing your story and story choices? If you haven’t already, sit down and map out your character. Then, go to your WIP so far and see if the choices your character has made so far align with who they are.

They do? Fantastic, you’re on the right track.

The don’t? That’s okay. It’s easy to fix. Go back to the method we outlined last week and figure out how to make it so that they do match up.

Happy writing and I’ll see you in #TheWriterCommunity!


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