This one relates somewhat to a post I had a few months ago. In that, I asked folks whether they favored – or implemented – outlines while beginning a new work. The bag of answers was mixed on that, but that’s another lesson, coming soon.
Whether or not you use outlines, one thing DOES have to be fairly firm in your mind. Your characters. Unlike my previous lessons, I can’t put examples into this, as it’s a bit strung out. But – I can tell you I committed the gravest of sins for any writer.
I let the plot drive the formation of my character. One of them, anyway. Beth, one of the central figures in my book, waffled a lot. She used to, that is, before my editor gave me a very polite, genteel (She’s a brit – that’s how they do it) butt-chewing for making Beth seem at times like she was on some kind of hallucenogenic drug – or perhaps just drunk. Initially, Beth was portrayed to be strong, willful, independent, and stubborn. Then came the love interest. And I had her giggling and acting like a 15-year-old school girl that just had the senior quarterback smile at her from the next table in the cafeteria. As my dear (I’m not kidding) editor would say – Ugh.
Oftentimes, we meet or interact with people who can influence us enough that we act a bit out of character. Make a phone call we wouldn’t normally make. Stay up late…eat less…what have you. But – and this is a biiiiiig but – if we do so, we do it a) with full realization, and wondering what the hell we’re doing? have we lost our mind? or b) willingly, but still staying true to ourselves. In other words, making concessions in order to jibe with our new acquaintance, but otherwise, keeping our other traits.
As I’ve heard so many times around the circles, the CHARACTERS drive the PLOT...not the other way around. If the plot doesn’t allow your people to act how you created them, you have to either change the character’s personality throughout the story (that probably won’t work, since you created them for a reason, to fit a certain role), or you have to change the plot to fit how they are supposed to act.
Now. A caution. Having your principles firm in your mind doesn’t mean they CAN”T change at all. We all evolve throughout our lives, whether as a result of our environment, circumstance, or maturation. The people in your work can and will, too. Life isn’t something you can just plow through, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. I’m just saying that your shifts have to make sense.
I will say that I think using an outline to sketch out your story line would likely make it easier to spot irregularities in your various protagonists – but it’s not a guarantee.
Now that I probably have everyone completely confused, I’ll just say that any way you cut it, your story is a reflection of life – you gotta keep it real :)