Plot or characters


During my illness, I received several inquiries about the importance of plotting and characterization in a novel. This is very interesting because many writers think that if you just concentrate on the story, the rest will fall into place. This is not true. Some novels lean toward plotting as a guide, while others swear by characterization. Many mystery novelists base their stories on an antagonist. Jaws and Silence of the Lambs are classic examples. The shark upstages all others, as does Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.

A smart writer who knows their craft can get a few chapters into a novel and change not only the dominant character but also the direction of the story, which may take them down dark paths to an entirely different focus. Often, love stories may start with a great romance but suddenly switch when one of the characters changes personalities, and an ogre emerges as the new lead. You may be smart enough to plan this out, or you may decide on your own to turn a great romantic character into a monster who moves the story from sunshine to a dark midnight place, which can truly create a page-turner.

As I have often said, put yourself into your work. We all have dark shadows in our lives that remain locked up in a mental vault. It is relieving to unload them into your work. I’ll bet you have all kinds of denials in your closet. Use them in your work.

For instance, when you are driving on a freeway in heavy traffic, you are likely to slip in and out of lanes to move forward. It is a good principle to adopt when you get so-called “writer’s block.” The solution: don’t write when you have nothing to say.

I have a number of stories for you coming up. I haven’t bemoaned my condition. Now that my fingers are back at the keyboard, I will be providing you with answers to your questions plus other tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the past 60 years. Now that I’ve celebrated my hundredth birthday, I’m rarin’ to get to work in my second century. Just sayin’

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