The Tilt between Plot and Character

kmweiland1-plot vs character

I used to be a big plotter. I spent many days if not weeks on developing plot before “going in”. This year I’ve noticed a change in my writing process, with character development taking a turn at the forefront.

Provided it ends up balanced, I’m happy with the shift. December brings a discovery of my own tilt between the two, shifting the scales of my own writing processes.

When I first started writing, it was through one of those many “write a book in a month” books – I forget which one.  I used to suggest I followed the book formula or steps to get to the novel I wrote. But looking back, even then, I broke the steps, added in further craft knowledge gained from other books, and never properly wrote down a full outline. What I do know is that I did even less along the lines of character development,  preferring to explore my character once writing.

I next moved to thrillers, where plot and action takes precedence. It’s in that genre that I became a true plotting fiend, completely understandable now, given the genre requirements.

Now back into the fantasy and YA realm, I’ve this month found I’m not willing to finish that first incomplete draft without further character development. I had the plot (kind of) long ago, although really pantsed the first draft to near completion. But all this time, something has been missing, niggling at me that I can’t go on until I understand – and like  – my main characters.

Character development seems the key to me. This makes sense not only from a genre perspective, but from a time of personal growth in my real world. My daughter is currently getting on a plane to come home from Houston. She’s been at Space Camp for the past couple of weeks – the longest period she’s ever been away from home. Space Camp has been packed full of scheduled opportunities for her. Even watching them reported in photos hours later, I feel somewhat exhausted. Talk about character growth.

But not for her, for me. Because having her away found me acting all mumsy and being concerned and worried for her, missing her, and lacking a motive for filling my own days – even when my husband took me away for our first short break together for fifteen years. My own character appears lacking when I’m out of my domestic routine. I need to explore and change that, because it’s only a few years now before my daughter will be moving out, and exploring her own adult life. My sense of purpose and identity has to alter with that upcoming shift.

In exploring character archetypes, personality types and development for my fictional characters, it seems much can be applied to myself.

I’m currently learning about Goddess archetypes, mostly based on Ancient Greek goddesses, but of course, having a down under perspective, I’m also researching many other nation’s goddesses.  My background history puts me personally as an Athena type, as much as I wanted to be the pop-culture favoured Artemis. That realization helped me understand one of my main characters, who displays many of the same Athena traits. It also gave her a much better background story.

Through Christmas and this holiday season I will continue to gather and apply more character tools to my fictional characters and perhaps too, myself.

The holidays and coming New Year is also a good place to take a look at our own writing processes – what has changed, and what needs to change, and to make some plans or strategies for 2016. Looking back at where I “failed” has also been character-building too.

Credit for graphic – KM Weiland, shared on her blog here, but also featured in her writing craft book, Outlining Your Novel Workbook.


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