Nov 12, 2009

Plotting, Characters, & their Complexities

Plotting & Characters—The Two Elements

When writing, there are two basic elements that make up a novel: plot and characters. These two elements must coexist—and coexist well—for the book to be anything worth reading. And let’s face it, why bother writing something that no one wants to read? It’s the plotlines and the characters that hold a reader’s attention. They are the glue that not only binds the story together, but connects the story with its audience.

I have a love/hate relationship with the plotlines of my books. Out of all of the elements that go into novel writing, it’s the plot that is my Achilles heel. I constantly worry that the plot is missing something, that it could be better. Or—when I’m having a particularly bad day of writing—that it’s absurd. While plot-holes can be patched up, a bad plot is seldom able to be revived.

I’ve been planning to write a blog post on plotting for the last few weeks. After all, It only makes sense that I write about the devil I know best. After reading a blog called Why You Should Interview Your Characters by Carolina Valdez Miller, I realized two things.

One—I don’t struggle with character relationships in my books. If anything, my characters keep the story alive. My books are (mostly all) character driven. They are about people and their journeys to the other side of the rainbow.

And two—obviously—plots and characters go together like babies and diapers. Basically—put the diaper on the kid’s head and you’re in for a messy time. But, put the diaper where it goes, and one element complements the other. When I look at it this way, I can really see that the more you know one, the better you will understand the other.

I've spend countless hours plotting and re-plotting my novels. And I know, I'll be re-plotting again and again before I've finished my currrent WIP. To date, my two plot boards look like this:

 I know--I'm not the most organized person on the planet, but it works for me.

I'll add new notes to the boards as they come to me because I need everything written out or I start to feel lost and overwhelmed. It helps when I can look over and see where I am and where I need to go.

Character Interviews

First off, I'll be interviewing Kate, one of the main character of my current WIP, "Book 1" or the Immortal Series. Here goes...

I waited for Kate for about ten minutes in a small but comfortable private sitting room in the vampire palace. I knew she’d be late—I’d been warned by several of my characters that the reclusive assassin wouldn’t willingly submit to an interview. But, luckily for me, the King himself had extended my invitation to her, making it impossible for her to refuse.

Of course, that didn’t mean she’d have to be generous about it…

When she did arrive, she smiled politely—though it didn’t reach her eyes—and took a seat across from me on an antique settee that coordinated perfectly with the armchair I had chosen.

Me: "Hello Kate, how are you today?"

Kate: “Busy; I’m getting close to nailing another Dark Cell. No offense to you or anything, I just don’t see why you couldn’t have found someone else to interview. I don’t have time to be back in Crehmor, let alone sitting down for an interview.”

I was expecting this kind of response from her. I knew she hated the vampire city of Crehmor and wouldn’t be thrilled to be here, so I’d prepared myself for this line of argument.

Me: “You’re a main character in the upcoming book, Kate. Everyone wants to know a little about you, including myself.”

Kate: “I’m here because Gabriel told me to come, so ask your questions so I can get back to work. There is a war going on, or haven’t you noticed?”

Me: “Speaking of the war, what part do you play in it?”

Kate: “As you well know, I’m the General of the Assassins—the Assassins being a branch of the Vampiric Army. I work undercover to collect intelligence against our enemy, the Shade. Once I, or one of my people, infiltrate a Cell, we join up with the Slayers—the other branch of the army—and take them out. Then, we move on to another Cell.”

Me: “Sounds like dangerous work.”

Kate: “It can be.”

Me: “Don’t you ever worry about the things that could happen to you while you’re undercover?”

Kate: “Not much. I’ve thought about it, sure, but someone’s got to do it. Might as well be me—I don’t have anything to lose.”

Me: “Except your life…”

Kate: “It’s a war, Ms. Reese. People die every day—people with husbands, wives, children… I don’t have anyone. My family’s dead. Besides, I’m not afraid to die.”

Me: “You have someone; Micah. Tell me about him.”

Kate: Sighs and slouches back in her seat before answering. “My father was killed when I was a child. Micah had been very close to him, and he became my guardian. He’s…like an uncle to me.” Realizing where I had been going with this, she added, “Micah knows the risks of what I do. He also has his own life to live.”

Me: “I see. So you take on the tough assignments? So the soldiers with families don’t have to?”

Kate: “I’d rather risk my life than the lives of my men.”

Me: “So there’s no one in your life? No boyfriends or special someones?”

Kate: “No; I don’t get attached to people.”

Me: “No one?”

Kate: “No one.”

Me: “I’ve heard the gossip around the city. They say that you and the King’s cousin—the King’s Right Hand—are involved?”

Kate: “Caleb and I are acquainted only through our work; we’re both on the High Council. That is our only connection.”

Me: “He is quite attractive…”

Kate: “Your point?”

Me: “Well. He seems like he’s interested—”

Kate: “Well he’s not; and neither am I. Are we finished here?”

Me: “Not quite; I have a few more questions. You’re a legend throughout the immortal world—an icon for young girls. Why is it that you are afraid of relationships? Even the soldiers in your unit say that you can be cold as ice. They say you’re afraid of attachments.”

My bluntness must have taken her off guard. She glared at me and I added a mental note to add “deadly as explosion” to her bio…

Kate: “I can’t afford attachments, Ms. Reese. My job isn’t just a danger to my life, but to all those around me—”

Me: “Your father was killed in this war. Are you afraid to put your own loved ones through that pain if you are kill as well?”

Kate: “My—that has nothing to do with this interview. Leave my father out of this. As for your little observation, no, I’m not afraid of dying.”

Me: “No, you aren’t afraid of dying—we’ve established that. But that wasn’t what I asked. Are you afraid of getting involved because of the work you do?”

Kate: “Next question.”

Me: “After you answer my last one.”

After a long pause, Kate stood and smiled.

Kate: “It’s been a pleasure, Ms. Reese. I hope you got what you needed for your report. I’ll tell a servant you’ll be leaving now so they can escort you—

Me: “Oh, don’t bother. I have one last interview today…with Caleb. He should be here shortly, if he isn’t already waiting in the hall.”

The look she gave me could have triggered heart attacks in the elderly. I, however, stood and extended my hand.

Me: “Good luck, Kate. I’ll see you again soon.”

Yay! That was fun. I'll be doing that again soon!


  1. Your plotting boards are more organized than my desk which is always covered in sticky notes, with no discernible pattern or order.

    So glad the character interview process was helpful for you. I'm always stunned by the way it turns out. I look back and think, was that inside there this whole time? Kate's interview was fantastic, by the way. Love the voice. And the attitude...good stuff.

    Incidentally, your link's broken. But great post all around! I'm so flattered that you even read my post, let alone tried my suggestion! Would love to have you guest post an interview for the series if you're ever interested.

  2. VERY COOL :-) I like Kate! (Also, Micah and Caleb are to of my most very favorite names)

    I'm not a full-fledged plotter. I have ideas I jot down, but that's about it. HOWEVER. After this time around, my next novel will be MUCH MORE plotted (is that even the correct syntax?) I've even ordered a corkboard to hang in front of my desk in preparation! I think I'll go ahead and follow your lead and get a whiteboard as well!

  3. Neat interview. Interesting that you have two plot boards. How are they different?

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. Carol--can't wait to be in a guest post on Carol's Prints! So excited :P

    Sara--Those are some of my favorite names too :) & I know what you mean about not being a full-fledged plotter; sometimes I feel like I'm not one either. Actually, this is the first book I've really been adamant about keeping a strong plot. My whiteboards really help keep me on track.

    Lynnette-- One of my boards is an overview of the whole book (the vertical one on the left side). The post-it notes on it are points to add to the plotline or are questions that I have yet to answer.

    The board on the right is what I use when stuck on a particular scene--I map out where I am and where I need to go, and then fill in the blanks on how to get there.

    Both boards are color coordinated. Blue notes are for main plot points. Green ones are for secondary plot points. Pink is for romance plot points. Yellow notes point out things I need to add and purple notes are comments and questions. Oh-and the black marker shows a scene that alludes to the next book in the series.
    Does that make sense?


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