I love my Saturday mornings soaking up the advice and wisdom of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Her wisdom challenges me as a writer and gives me things to think about to refine my own pieces. As many of you know, I’ve written a book, Encounters On a Park Bench, which is currently being marketed to agents and publishers. I will continue to edit and process this work until the day press meets paper. I’m also working on a second book, A Walk from Winleigh, which will be a young adult story. As I read through Bird by Bird I am compelled to strengthen my own writing and to heed the valuable advice from such a celebrated author. Today, I spent time thinking about the importance of character development and a character-driven plot.
The lifeblood of any work of fiction rests on the characters of that tale.
Characters are not developed over night. As a writer, it takes weeks, months, or even years to fully grasp the ins and outs of a character. To truly know the characters in your story you have to get down to the minute details and learn what makes them unique, why they act the way they do, and many other assorted details.
In my book, this was one of the most time consuming parts of writing. I started with an idea. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a homeless man, but it took two years to really understand the many facets of his personality. His dialogue has been the most challenging bit of the whole book. As an English teacher, I’m a devout grammarian, but the thing with dialogue is that it is an opportunity to further develop the personality of a character. Which means my homeless protagonist better sound like a homeless man not an educated instructor of secondary English. Refining dialogue is really all there is left to do in my story. I dread it the most because I know that much work still lies ahead.
A book will only be as strong as its narrator so be careful to develop a narrator that piques the interest of your reader.
Nothing makes a more compelling story than a plot driven by the actions of your characters. Sitting down to write shouldn’t be a task in which you know what will happen every step of the way. It does help to plan ahead a bit, but if you allow your characters to drive your plot it is impossible to know the climax from the start of the project. If you let your characters interact naturally the conflicts of the story will arise and the climax will form all on its own. It is glaringly obvious when an author pushes too hard his or her own agenda in a story. Focus on developing your characters and allow them the courtesy of moving the plot along.
“Your plot will fall into place as, one day at a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other.”-Anne Lamott
As a final note on plot, Lamott gives the formula ABDCE (which comes from Alice Adams).
This formula is meant more for short stories but can be tailored to fit the format of a novel as well. It’s a good starting point if you are a beginner, but it is also important to note that tethering yourself to a formula for writing will almost ensure that your story is plot driven as opposed to character driven. The latter is the goal.
The Ameri Brit Mom