Character vs. Plot
The good ole’ Character vs. Plot debate. Some people think characters are more important than plot, and others argue the opposite. Here, we think character and plot are equally important.
Building character without a plot is a tad boring. Is the character doing anything? What’s the point of your story if there is no story?
On the other hand, building plot without character lacks depth. The story may be fun but it’s meaningless if your reader doesn’t identify with or care about the characters.
In order to create a compelling and even story, you must focus on both. You’ll find there’s a delicate balance between the two.
How to use character to push your plot
Let’s talk about how character can drive plot first.
Figure out what the character cares about. Forgive my cliche, but let’s use this example: your character met a girl at a pool party.
Figure out why the character cares about this. In our example, the character has fallen head over heels in love with this girl, and now he’ll spend the rest of the summer obsessing over how to get the girl to fall in love with him. That’s his motivation for your story.
Figure out why the character cannot have what he cares about. This is where you amp up the cruelty (or reality, as it seems), and throw obstacles in his path to getting what he wants. Perhaps he’s incredibly shy or a vampire or the girl has relocated to Antarctica, or all of the above.
Of course, this last part is your plotline. It’s hopelessly intertwined with the character’s motivation. As the character forces his way towards what he cares about (the girl from the pool party), he drives your plot forward.
That’s why it’s so crucial to focus on character. Your reader will not continue on an adventure with a character they don’t care about.
How to use plot to develop your character
Alternately, you can use plot to develop your character.
It’s important to make your character sweat and to reveal a chink in his armor. Some characterization can only be revealed during times of stress.
How does the character find out about himself? Character revelations, especially those of self-discovery, are wonderful in both fiction and nonfiction alike. Maybe the struggle (plot) shows the character something interesting about himself that he never knew.
By making the character fail to reach his goal but learn from it, you’re using plot to craft character.
How to create likeable characters
Now, let’s talk about creating likeable characters.
In real life, you know someone who makes you feel great when you’re around them and then you know someone else who you avoid like the plague. What makes one person likeable and the other one not?
You like people who share traits similar to your own, and you like people who have traits you admire. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what a likable character has or possesses:
A sense of humor
To create a likeable but relatable character, model him after someone you know or want to know. But be careful not to build a “perfect” shrine. Your goal should always be to create a flawed human whose good traits are in constant opposition to the bad, and the good is winning.
Remember that no character should be saint, especially your likeable ones.
How to use other characters to create tension
Everyone comes into the story with their own motivation, and that motivation will not be the same for everyone. In fact, some characters will be diametrically opposed to each other.
Alternatively, they may all want the same thing but have different ideas on how to get it.
Allow supporting characters to stand between your protagonist and what he cares about. This will make him sweat and bring out his true personality.
How to use internal dialogue to create tension
Your character may, and often will, struggle internally about a choice before making it. Give the reader insight into this inner conflict.
Remember that creating a likeable character with flaws humanizes them. Pitting that well-rounded character against a struggle makes your reader root for them. It’s hard to watch good characters in pain, but it’s necessary for good storytelling.