Character is Action
Character is action. How do you accomplish this? Does this mean you
have to change the genre you write to suspense or thrillers? No, it
To have a character in action, you turn their normal world upside
This is where your story begins, the moment of change, of threat to
their peaceful world. Using the character charts/profile from the
last lesson, you'll have an idea of how this person you've created
will react to threat.
Start with the threat and the character's response to it. By shaking
up the character's norm, this will bring out the internal and
external GMC and begin the process of plot.
The threat doesn't always have to be life threatening. You can make
the change unpleasant. Tossing in something to mess up the
character's status quo doesn't always mean a life and death threat.
Knowing your character gives you the tools that will knock them off
kilter, disturb their ordered world.
Example: If the heroine is terrified of big dogs have her walk into
her house and there in middle of her kitchen is a Great Dane waiting
for her, tail thumping in happiness and a puddle of drool on the
To make this really pertinent to the story, have her returning home
from the hospital from a dog bite. Now, we can see how having a dog
in her kitchen affects her internally and externally. You've just
made this personal with action needed right now.
This dog could be the sweetest, slobbery creature, but to the heroine
it isn't. What action will she take? This was a quick example of
character and plot, but I think you can see what I mean. What will
she do the person who had the nerve to bring a dog in her house in
the first place? How does she feel? By asking questions like these,
you've begun the journey of plot.
Something else to keep in mind, events such as marriage, divorce,
abuse, fear of heights, kids, being fired from a job, tragedy from
the elements…all signify change in a person's life. I'm sure you can
think of many more examples than what I've listed here. Any of this
would affect how the character would view their world. These elements
can also be a threat to the character.
Jack M. Bickham says, "Nothing is more threatening than change."
What keeps readers turning the pages, waiting to buy our next book?
Readers are hooked by characters they can care about and the action
this character takes to achieve the story goals. They want to find
out what happens.
An active character is a character who wants something so desperately
they will take action to get it. It also will make the reader turn
the pages to discover what will happen to your hero and heroine.
Passive characters bleed into the white page. Readers want to be
entertained and by providing interesting, three dimensional
characters this will happen.
We draw upon our experiences to create plot. This is why writers look
for universal plot themes when they write. It's okay if you don't
know what the universal theme is of your book. For romance, many
times it is love conquers all.
Another way to look at character and plot comes from "What If?" by
Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter:
How a character handles a situation by the way they choose to act, or
not act in some cases, moves the story forward into plot. The
particular situation your character is in grows from the beginning
point where their life is shifted from normal. Then complications
rise, each time escalating finally reaching the crisis point.
Throughout this process, the character's self-concept is revealed and
threatened which will blend right into your plot.
Action creates plot.
Without tension/conflict, you have no plot. (Jack Bickham)
Without action there is no character, and without action there is no
plot. (Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots, page 55).
I've heard many writers say they can't be mean to their characters. I
used to be one of those writers and it took me years to get over it.
What helped me to go beyond this problem was learning HOW to plot and
HOW it affects the characters.
Debra Dixon from: GMC –Goal, Motivation and Conflict: If your
character doesn't take action right now, the urgency fizzles. The
pace screeches to a halt and you risk having the reader putting down
your book and never picking it up again.
In romance novels falling in love is a conflict the character wants
to avoid. Falling in love should impact the goals and choices of the
hero and heroine. In fact, the romance is conflict.
Why can't they fall in love? Will this affect the character
internally, externally or both? If so why? This is an important
element to the plot as romance writers. This adds lovely, sexual
tension not to be confused with the actual act of sex itself. The
fantastic push, pull between the hero and heroine that sizzles the
The character profile/charts in the last lesson will help you see
what elements will affect the character and give you ideas on how to
add plot to the story.
The magic words for me are "What If?" This gets my creative thoughts
flowing and I write down what comes to mind. When the list starts, I
don't stop no matter how dumb it might be. Taking a closer look
afterward there are suggestions that can help add a nice plot twist
When ideas come for the character chart later, have a pack of posty
notes handy and slap it on the page. You can go back later and retype
or whatever process you feel works.
Don't forget that people watching is an activity that can provide
extra notes when you need help filling out the chart. Have a notepad
handy to jot down what you see or hear. Watch body language, tone of
voice, how people walk, habits, dress, how they deal with those
Take those notes and make a file so you can go back and pull the
When a character is making a decision; be sure you have consequences
for the actions they take. This starts the character on the road to
personal change. By the end of the story the main characters should
grow, become better than they were at the beginning of the book.
The difference between Plot and Story
Tobias from 20 Master Plots: Plot involves the reader in the game of
why? Plot is not story. Story only makes the reader curious of what
will happen next.
Write a paragraph or two to show these character and plot elements.
Create a character (or use one if it you already have something), in
a situation where opposing forces are at work?
What does your character want? How will the decisions he/she makes
propel the story forward?
The purpose of exercise 1 is to show how plot is driven by the
Why not try writing a scene from the hero's point of view, then the
heroine's point of view from what you've learned in this section.
Sometimes just changing the point of view character is all you need
to get back on track with your plot.