Plots are the work of the devil. Yes, I’m sorry, but they are. They join internal conflict in their very own special circle of hell. At least, in my own personal writing hell. Why is this you say? Well, because in Modern Heat land (and no doubt in Modern/Presents land too), the plot needs to be driven by the characters. But surely every plot is driven by the characters? After all, without any characters, you wouldn’t have a plot right?
It’s true that of course without any characters you wouldn’t have a plot, but it does not mean that every plot is character driven. This is something that I have slowly been coming to learn over the past few months, especially after Michelle pointed out the flaws in my synopses. In fact, it was something I already knew, but just didn’t understand until now.
So what’s the difference? Well, I’m still learning and naturally enough I am no expert but here’s what I see as the difference. In your suspense/mystery/SF/fantasy/paranormal etc the action is usually plot driven. This is when external circumstances force the characters to act. But character driven plots are where the action is driven by decisions and actions the character makes themselves and not due to external circumstances (which is why internal conflict is so important because this affects how they act). Now, feel free to tell me this is a load of old bollocks and I’ve got it wrong, but that’s what I think is the difference.
Anyway, like I said, for Modern Heat, the action/plot must be driven by the hero and heroine. Which means that if you have an overly complicated set up, you end up forcing your h&h to act in response to your plot, and not because of decisions or actions that they make themselves. Which in turn can make them act in a contrived way. Does that make sense?
A prime example of this is my rejected ms – which was rejected partly because of the setup and because I was trying to force my heroine into acting in a way that she wouldn’t. My setup was that my heroine had to use an internet dating site to set up a blind date for research she was doing into the internet dating scene. This was not the problem. The problem was that I had made my heroine a socially inept geek for whom blind dates and dating full stop was anaethma. Good in terms of setting up tension, but not so good for a character driven plot. Why not? Well, why would a socially inept geek want this assignment in the first place? And so I had to make her go through with it by setting up a pushy friend, a broken relationship she wanted to get over, a boss that would fire her if she didn’t, etc, etc. You see how I complicated everything? Just so I could force my poor heroine to go on her date.
Now making this setup character driven would have been easy if only I had made my heroine make the decision to go through with the date herself. So she takes charge of the action rather than her responding to the actions of the plot. Maybe she took the blind date assignment because she wanted to do something different, maybe she took it because she wanted to change her life. But in order to make her take charge, she would have to have been a different sort heroine, with a different sort of conflict, and that would mean rewriting the whole book – hence the rejection.
Which brings me to the current wip. I have a fake engagement in the middle of it and although this does stem from an action the character takes, I fear I have manipulated things in order to make the character take that action rather than letting things take their natural course. Since this is in the synopsis I have submitted, I’m slightly reluctant to take it out but my instinct is to do so. Should I trust my instinct I wonder? But that’s a whole other post so I’ll stop there!
What does everyone else think about character driven plots? Does this make sense or am I barking up the wrong tree? Maybe I’m simply barking full stop!