Thursday, October 14, 2010

What I've Learned - Bird by Bird (2)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

In Part 2 of my recap of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, I'm going to talk about plotting.

In the chapter on plotting, Anne touches on two points (page 54):

  • Plot grows out of character.
  • Characters should not serve as pawns for a plot you've dreamed up.

    This means you can't have a plot until you know your character and you can't know your character until you spend time with them.

    I do this by writing scenes that I know will never make it into the final cut. Things that happen way before the novel even takes place. Scenes that shape the character into the person they are at the beginning of the story. Once you know who they are, the plot will fall into place.

    Let's take an example:

    Bobby is sixteen years old. He doesn't fight with his younger sister and loves both his parents. There's no abuse - physical or mental - in his family. In fact, his parents have done nothing but support him and any dream he's had his who life. He gets good grades and is college bound.
    So after you've spent all this time painting Bobby's picture, you have him run away. This doesn't make much sense, and the reader won't be able to find the connection. From the description I've given you, Bobby would never run away.

    How about we tweak the facts a bit, because we've spent weeks with Bobby and now we know most of his secrets.

    Bobby never really wanted to go to college and be a doctor. He just didn't have enough self esteem to tell his parents after all they did for him. On top of that, he's cheated on most of the tests he's taken in High School.
    Now, when Bobby runs away, it makes a little more sense. The pressure of pleasing his parents builds and builds until he can't take it anymore, then BAM!, he's gone.

    If you get to know your characters, they'll tell you exactly what they want to do. And remember, if you try bossing them around, they'll eventually cross you, so be careful!

    How do you get to know your characters? Do you let them run wild, even if it changes your original concept?

    1. My book goes exactly where my character wants it to go. Luckily they told me how the story ends. So at least I know where I'm going.


    2. This is such great advice! I tend to start with characters in my plots, but I still have to make sure they fit! Thanks for sharing :)