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Tuesday, October 3

Day Three: Idea to Novel Workshop: What's Driving Your Plot?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Three of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’re working on choosing the engine that will drive your novel’s plot.

Now that you know a little more about your idea and where it might be heading, let’s take a moment to see how you might get there. It’s helpful to know what will drive your novel—the character actions and decisions that make the story happen and advance it toward the end of the novel—so you can tailor the plot and story to that.

Books don’t have to be fully plot driven or fully character driven. These are just terms for common writing styles that can help you figure out how to approach writing a novel. Don’t feel you have to be one or the other or your novel won’t work, but if you do know you think a certain way (plots first or characters first), that can be an asset in the planning process.

Explore if you have a character-driven or plot-driven novel.

1. What internal forces are causing your characters to act?

2. What external forces are causing your characters to act?

3. Does resolving the external problem resolve the internal?

4. Where does your idea fall on the character-driven vs. plot-driven scale?

EXERCISE: Describe how your novel is plot- or character-driven (or both).


This exercise is designed to help you decide the types of elements and conflicts you’ll use in your novel. Someone writing a plot-driven thriller won’t need to spend as much time on developing a character arc (as they’re not always used in that genre), though someone writing a literary novel about an emotional struggle will spend more time on internal conflict and growth and less on external plot.

Knowing what drives your novel will help you decide what types of conflicts and issues to focus on.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Three goes into more extensive detail on determining if your novel is plot- or character-driven, with examples and exercises to guide you.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at creating our characters.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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4 comments:

  1. I've always thought what "plot"driven and "character"driven really meant is how much the situation limits characters' choices, because all still come from an combination of both.

    But "plot" stories have concepts that define most of what characters' options are-- eg police, medical or legal "procedurals" (good word), or most action stories where the hero has to know the few options he has left that won't get him killed. Still, which choices they take within those options define their character and give the story heart.

    Meanwhile true "character"-driven stories have a much wider range, for someone to change their life any way they want-- so they're often coming-of-age, mid-life-crisis, or other life issues. And those stories still have plots, because even freeform choices have to happen when they happen, and they all have consequences.

    At work all our lives are plot-driven, at least when we're reacting to the day-to-day needs. The more our time is our own, the more we have the freedom to life character-driven lives.

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    1. That's a more fleshed out out definition, so yes, I agree. (and I could have gone more in to this on afterthought. I will if I run this workshop again)

      From a fiction standpoint, it's about where the focus is, I think. If the point of the book is to solve the external problem, odds are it's plot-driven. If it's about the internal growth, it's character-driven. Everything in between incorporates both depending on the situation.

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  2. Janice, I look forward to these posts so much each morning I ordered the book!

    Ken, great points. Now if I could only decide whether to write my character-driven idea or my plot-driven idea for NaNoWriMo...

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