Well, maybe not always – but character seems to be the theme of the month here at Rear in Gear. Last week? Character names. This week? How character influences plot.
It seems obvious, right? Your characters’ actions and reactions – yes, those of ALL your characters – create the plot, right? Without action, there is no plot. But it’s more than that, according to Franny Billingsley. (By way of cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog – check it out!) Franny begins by quoting Henry James, that character determines plot, and that plot is an illustration of character, and tells us that she has been exploring this connection for several years, abiding by the maxim that a character’s actions are determined by her controlling belief. Her new take?
What happens if a character acts AGAINST her controlling belief? Well, for one thing, it turns the plot in an unexpected direction for the reader, since the character is usually acting against what she believes to be her own best interests. For another, it allows the character to grow and change. Billingsley’s end take is that when a character (usually the protagonist) acts against her controlling belief about herself and her place in her world, it means bad things for that character – but good things for the story.
I can definitely buy into this – and in fact, it seems to be just what I need to give my own character a little push. For a great read about character, I highly recommend Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins.