Characters should always lead your plot – Natasha Lester

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to attend a masterclass on plotting with best-selling author, Natasha Lester.

In particular, ten points stood out from the masterclass:

  1. Plot is a series of events; each of which causes an emotional response. The character’s emotional reaction propels the behavioural response and causes the next event. This is character-driven plot.
  2. Characters are the point of your writing. Make sure the main character is driving the story.
  3. The inciting incident in your story needs to be powerful enough to start your character’s journey. If this event doesn’t happen, the story wouldn’t happen. The inciting incident causes your character to act.
  4. Be clear about your character’s goal. The inciting incident directly creates your character’s goal. The goal fixes readers in the story because they know where the story is heading.
  5. Balance the known and the unknown to keep readers interested‘ – Natasha Lester.
  6. Obstacles challenge your character. Challenges create self-doubt, vulnerability and an emotional response. ‘The greater the depths of despair, the sweeter the victory‘ – Natasha Lester.
  7. Your character’s goals need to be clear and work best with conflict. Two goals in opposition to each other increases narrative tension. Clear goals helps readers root for your character.
  8. Stakes are the reasons readers care about your character. Stakes create a sense of jeopardy and danger. What does your character lose if life stays the same?
  9. The biggest part of writing is rewriting‘ – Natasha Lester.
  10. Four common plotting problems:
  • The main character doesn’t change throughout the story;
  • The plot twists are too surprising;
  • Too many unknowns in the story; and
  • There aren’t enough obstacles for your character.

A myriad of information about plotting is freely available to writers. Above all, writers should trust themselves. No two writers write the same way but we can all learn from those ahead of us on the journey. Writers often relate to being either pantsters or plotters. I recently heard the term join-the-dotters and I thought that’s me. Finding the way between points is what I do with my writing. So don’t feel pressured to find the perfect way to plot.

Know that plotting is all about events and how they move your story along. Behavioural responses and obstacles are what increase your stakes. Take the learnings of others and adapt it to your writing process where it feels comfortable. Writing, like plot, is a journey. Happy writing.

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