Friday, February 24, 2012

Plot/Character Exercises

We've been talking about how conflict comes from the interaction between character and plot. Let's look more closely at character.

Six basic human needs influence character:
Growth (working toward a personal goal)
Contribution (feeling needed, worthwhile)
Security (knowing the future)
Change (desire for variety, excitement)
Connection (feeling part of a group)
Independence (personal identity and freedom)

Which of these are most important to your main character? Create conflict by setting up situations which oppose that person’s needs.

Exercise—Write a story, starting with plot.
Come up with a challenge – a difficult situation for someone. This can be anything from facing the first day of school to wanting to make a sports team to solving a crime to fighting zombies.

Then ask, What kind of person would have the most trouble in that situation? Plan or write a story about that character in that situation.

Exercise—Write a story, starting with character.
Write a brief character sketch, covering basics such as gender, age, personality characteristics – introvert/extrovert, optimist/pessimist, etc. – with a few likes and dislikes. You can base this on someone you know.
How would they define or describe themselves? (“I always…I never…I’m the kind of person who….”)
•    If these statements are true, a situation that challenges the belief will create conflict. For example, if you have a character who is honest, put him in a situation where there is a good reason to lie.
•    If these statements are false, a situation that exposes the delusion will create conflict.  For example, if someone sees himself as courageous, but isn't really, a situation that requires courage will be especially painful because it shakes up his view of himself.

So, what situation will most challenge this character? Summarize or write a story about that character in that situation.

You know you need both an interesting character and a strong plot to make a good story. As you develop an idea, think about how your character and plot interact, and design your character for your plot. As you write the story, work back and forth between plot and character.

One more exercise:
Look at your work in progress. What is the problem? Why is it important? Why is it difficult? (See the post From Idea to Story Part 2: Setting up Conflict.)

Given those answers, is your character the right character for that situation? Could you give your character different needs or desires, to make the situation more difficult for him or her?

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