CritiqueMatch is a platform where writers and beta readers connect and exchange work for free! New: You can also buy a critique or beta-reading service from our top-rated users!

Apr 20, 2020

How I Use Character Development to Plot

By Renay Marsh.

I’m a character-first writer. That means my characters come to me before any other part of the story. Plot? Setting? They come afterward.
Yes, my characters appear to me. Not completely formed. Sometimes, all I get is “Hi. Will you write my story?” Other times the character pulls up a chair, plops down, makes themselves comfortable, before spilling everything. Either way, it is up to me to listen, ask questions, and get to know them.

This is when the story begins to form. I learn where it will take place, find out who the other characters are, then the plot. By the time the characters are done, I have it all laid out in multiple files on my laptop. Now I get to put it all together and write.
Is it easy? No, not by a long shot. It can take months for me to get to this point. There are times when I want to skip those steps and just write. I don’t want to wait and take the time to get to know each one of them better than I know myself. But guess what? If I don’t take the time, I end up regretting it. Those characters I mentioned? Yeah, they don’t take kindly to being ignored. To them, I tried to tell them what to do and how to do it.
And just like in real life, that will only get you so far before a steel door slams down and you are shut out.
How can you do this?
First, get to know those characters you want to write about. Why? Because like it or not, much of a character’s motivation is anchored in a past your reader will never see. Once you understand it, you’ve freed your character for the steps they must take in order to get to the end of the journey.
How do we do this?
§  Research
§  Character development worksheets.
o   Use character generators if necessary.
§  Available online through different websites.
·      One Stop For Writers
·      Jami Gold’s Blog
·      The Novel Factory
·      Writers Digest
§  These are just some resources available.
§  Role-play.
o   For this, you will need a partner.
§  Have the characters write you a letter.
o   I use this one a lot. The secret is to let them tell you as much as they want. Don’t worry about whether it will actually make it into the story.
§  Interview them.
o   You can find interview sheets online.
§  LISTEN. Characters LOVE to talk about themselves.
§  Do this for each main and secondary character.
o   Don’t worry about those cardboard characters, you know the ones whose names we never know, who are just there as backdrops.
Why go through all this? Because each character has a backstory. Think of those characters as potential best friends. Did you and your best friend become so close you know each other better than you know yourselves overnight? I bet you didn’t. You did that by spending time with them; by listening to them. Do the same thing with your characters.
While you’re listening, I want you to begin to interweave their stories. Continue until you find the Inciting Moment. Remember, this is the point where your story takes off.
Some of you are thinking, I don’t have time to do this. My reply is, it’s not about HAVING time, it’s about MAKING time. Trust me, you can take the time now, while you’re writing, or during revisions.
Once you have discovered the Inciting Moment, you will continue to weave those backstories together until you find the Big Black Moment. Remember this is the point in your story when all hope seems lost, the conflicts seem insurmountable. This is not the time to play nice with those characters. Nope. This is the time you should let them hit rock bottom.
One more thing, the Big Black Moment should mirror your Inciting Moment. This means if the Inciting Moment is about making a journey to return a ring, then the Big Black Moment should be about them returning that ring. The reason we do this? To prevent those red herrings. Those things that weren’t in the story at all until this exact moment. I’m sure we’ve all read a book where this happened. Where some previously unknown force swooped in to save the hero/heroine; or a character that did not appear anywhere else in the story shows up in time to save the day.
What the heck?
Those will be questions your reader will say out loud if you choose to create Inciting Moments and Big Black Moments that in no way correlate to each other.
But if you plot your story through developing your characters, you should be able to avoid this. Your characters will tell you when something doesn’t make sense. LISTEN TO THEM.
I’ve done this multiple times for different genres. It works every time. No matter if it was a paranormal romance, horror, gothic romance, or urban fantasy. As long I take the time to get to know each one of my characters’ backstory, the system works.
So, take the time to get to know those characters. You won’t regret it when the book is finished, published, and those reviews come pouring in.


About the Author: Renay Marsh
Renay Marsh writes under the pen name Violet Tempest. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or by signing up to follow The Tempest Files.