Writing on Wednesday is a way to keep this particular writer on track (I hope!). These are weekly posts/updates where I will share something from the past week of writing with the readers of this blog. Sometimes it might be something I’ve learned, found useful, or a bit of my own writing and ideas. I hope this will be a time of sharing, encouragement, and accountability. Join me in setting some writing goals to finish that project and celebrate each success.
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Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke was one of the first books that made it to my Writing Bookshelf, and it is a purchase I have never once regretted. While I don’t touch the plot section of the book much, the character portion as definitely been used. Gerke’s method for developing complex and deep characters is one of my favorites and, in my opinion, one of the most sensible approaches. Personally, I’m not a fan of Character Questionnaires that ask mundane details about a favorite food, color, or what street they live on. While that information is good to know, I don’t think it lets me get to know my character quite as deeply as I should.
What’s more important to a story: a gripping plot or compelling characters? Literary-minded novelists argue in favor of character-based novels while commercial novelists argue in favor of plot-based stories, but the truth of the matter is this: The best fiction is rich in both.
Enter Plot Versus Character. This hands-on guide to creating a well-rounded novel embraces both of these crucial story components. You’ll learn to:
- Create layered characters by considering personality traits, natural attributes, and backgrounds
- Develop your character’s emotional journey and tie it to your plot’s inciting incident
- Construct a three-act story structure that can complement and sustain your character arc
- Expose character backstory in a manner that accentuates plot points
- Seamlessly intertwine plot and character to create a compelling page-turner filled with characters to whom readers can’t help but relate
- And much more
Filled with helpful examples and friendly instruction, Plot Versus Character takes the guesswork out of creating great fiction by giving you the tools you need to inject life into your characters and momentum into your plots.
Gerke’s approach to developing characters starts with knowing who they are at their core. Much like we take personality tests to determine if we are introverts or extroverts, creative or analytical, and scientific or artsy, Gerke suggests starting with those core personality types when it comes to developing a character. The idea has a lot of merit. Afterall, how we act in any given situation ultimately is shaped by our personalities, right? We can learn to “act” differently, but it doesn’t change who we really are. The book relies on the 16 personality types that are defined by the Myers-Briggs personality test–and the book even has a brief description for each of the types, but those would not be the only option to use with this book.
Once you have the personality for a character defined, from there you start adding layers to the character. Each of these layers are meant to add a bit more depth and complexity to your character. You decide on some basic things like male or female, skin color and other physical characteristics. Each of these things have an impact on how your character will act with their given personality type. Then it becomes a bit more open to the things you layer on. What is their level of education? How do they dress? Both of those things are again influenced by their personality to some point. A shy person won’t dress to stand out for example.
From there, more layers are once again added on: family history, how they talk, how they feel about themselves. Then, one of the final stages: what is the character’s problem? At that point, plot and character development start to connect in the book.
I love this method for developing characters. It becomes clear the things that my character will or will not like and I also can know why they feel the way they do. I also feel like I will have a good idea on how they will act in any given situation. Another advantage is that by knowing who they are at their core as well other factors that have shaped their person helps me to give each character in a particular story their own personality. My characters don’t have to all seem to be cut from the same cloth.
The other portion of the book is focused on putting that character you created into a plot. I don’t find this portion as helpful. It primarily moves through the basics of a three-act structure. I find that a lot of the information presented in this section is pretty basic and other books dedicated to plot are more helpful. But few books can beat this one on the character section, in my opinion.