The Power Behind Plot – Characters
Plot that's engaging needs driven characters
All the best plots arise from Characters who are highly motivated to get things done. Think of Ghost and Tommy in the TV show Power. They don’t sit around unwilling, or unable to act. No, they are on fire when it comes to making a move. So as you write your killer plot, there are several things in relation to your characters you want to think about carefully.
The major characters need to develop
Start thinking of that at the beginning of your planning but don’t worry if things change as you further draft your plot. The most important thing is that you are thinking of it and have a good idea of what the character development arc will be over the length of the story. Sticking with Ghost and Tommy, think about what’s been driving much of the story and what’s made it so compelling. Ghost going from being the top distributor in New York, to running clubs and desperately trying to become legit. This forms the whole basis for his struggle, both in the practical sense but also on the inside. And it runs contrary to his journey with women and fidelity, where he becomes less honest and legit. Tommy on the other hand is developing from playing second fiddle to Ghost, to a more mature and experienced lead in the distribution game. But we all see his own struggle clear enough – does he really have the sense and smarts to pull off leadership at the level of Ghost? Similarly, he has his own character development going on with his approach to women, becoming more serious with Holly, at least up until he got rid of her for good.
Think about it but don’t overthink it
Be unafraid to think of all the things your characters might do. Write the list fast, don’t hold back, just get it out and get it down. At this stage don’t question or critique the possible actions. You just need to get them all out. Later you can identify what is genius from what needs to be tossed.
What’s their why?
As you write your plot, think of all the actions your characters are taking and dig into the detail of why they take those actions. Just as characters that don’t take action are boring, characters that do things for no apparent reason are also boring and unconvincing. Your characters need to be motivated, and driven to act because they are smart and resourceful in their own ways. Readers will naturally be more interested in that.
You are not your characters
No one wants to read a book where all the characters simply do what you would do and for the same reasons as you would. So you need to get past yourself and your own motivations so you can write characters that are compelling and different. Find out who your characters are in the absence of who you are. You need to find out what they feel, understand why they are motivated in any given situation. Write an interview with them if that helps, give them a voice beyond what you are writing. Get in their heads. Listen to the music they would. Read what they would. Do what they would (careful with this one). Eventually, you will understand them for who they are. This is the key to getting to the point where authors often say the characters took on a life of their own. And maybe it can get a little scary. You find yourself writing stuff that really makes you question your own conscience – because it’s not what you would do. You might feel worried your readers will judge you for it. But they won’t, they will be thinking of the character and if they judge anyone it will be the character. Now that makes for a more compelling read. And likewise, your other characters won’t judge their fellow characters the way you would. For example, you might never date a drug dealer knowingly, but Tasha has no problem with Ghost’s illegal business.
Keep it real
This is a big one. I’m not saying to keep your entire story down to earth, because true life stories rarely work very well. What I am saying, is the actions of your characters must be true to them. Can you imagine Tommy suddenly announcing he’s going to law school? If one of your characters does something that’s just plain out of character then readers will fall out of the illusion you are creating for them. So, as you plan out your plot and the actions of your characters, think “Would they really do this?” If you don’t get a comfortable “Yes” then you need to put in more work to ensure your readers know more about a character. The action may then be plausible. If necessary, introduce an element early on which gives the readers a clue that the character could act a certain way later. For instance, if early on the character is shown to already be a drinker then it wouldn’t be so improbable for them to be drunk or get wasted in a later chapter.
What you need to avoid is having two characters who are the same or similar. You wouldn’t be served well by pairing up two similar street thugs raised in the ghetto. Much better to have one and pair them up with a Harvard rich boy turned thug. Then you get to play the various differences of their characters off one another. In Power, Ghost is the clean cut, educated, thinking guy. Whereas, Tommy is the more ragged, brash, shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. And this means they aren’t always on the same page about things, even though they are supposed to be on the same team. Each excels or fails in certain situations and this makes for a gripping plot.
Work on these things when you are plotting. You are sure to bring forth more developed characters and as a result a better plot and overall story. Just take a look at this trailer for Power and you see if you can see these things coming through.