Character Development vs Plot Development

While writing the second book of my series, I’ve constantly been finding myself at odds with furthering the story. There are plot points that have to happen but finding the route to those points is far more difficult than I imagined. It never occurred to me that developing the plot is different than developing the characters.

The plot drives the story forward from beginning to end but the characters are what make the story alive. I started realizing this as I learned my writing style is as what Brandon Sanderson describes as a “Discovery Writer”. The idea behind a Discovery Writer being a writer who develops the story as they write as opposed to following a strict outline. I focused so much on developing my characters, their personalities, flaws and what drives them forward it felt like the characters began growing and showcasing more depth, but that began to conflict with where I wanted the story to go.

I recently finished writing a chapter where I allowed it to be carried out by the characters. The start of the chapter I set the scene but I used the characters’ personalities to guide the chapter. What I found was that the chapter went in a direction I didn’t expect. I had a very specific plot point for the end of the chapter however when I wrote it, it didn’t fit with the motivations or characteristics of any of the characters involved. None of it felt organic and I suddenly became aware I was forcing a cube into a circle. Erasing the 2nd half of the chapter, I re-wrote it based on the character’s motivations, how they would want the chapter to end based on their own goals. Each character had their own objectives and having them clash allowed for something I never would have thought of before.

It was a pleasant learning experience, allowing the story to follow its own organic path. What I got in the end felt far stronger than what I had tried to force. But I realized that I may have fallen into a trap of having too many rounded dynamic characters. I think the more of these complex personalities you have the more difficult it is to force them down a plot line that may not fit with their development. Would this character commit this act? No because she’s far too proud to admit her weakness! As a result, she falls and suffers the consequences, eventually learning humility to ask for help and overcome her obstacles. This works amazing for character development but I find it bogs down the plot development and slows down the story.

I feel that a balance is required, something that I’m struggling to learn myself. I love character development and writing out everyone’s story, however a lot of that ends up bogging down the story and slowing down the progress towards the climax or even the inciting incident. While it can be fascinating to follow the different character arcs, my fear is the novel “spinning its tires” as it were. Its the idea of a lot happening in the story without anything happening in the world to drive the overall plot forward.

Its something I need to learn and master, the skill of not having every character be unique and engaging. The more flat and static characters allow for a foil to the rounded dynamic characters allowing the reader to see the growth of the main characters in their new interactions with those more basic characters. Characters can be background characters that serve to promote and magnify the growth of the more dynamic characters.

Not everyone can be a protagonist.

Hope this insight helps! 🙂

– Raphael

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