Today we are joined by author Linda Rettstatt to discuss the Character Driven Plot!
Here's what she had to say:
It's the Character of the Character
I write character-driven fiction. What does that mean? Hopefully, it means my characters are three-dimensional and make the reader want to know them better. Rather than the character playing a role in the story, the character is the story. Does that mean the story has no plot? Of course not. But in character-driven fiction, the plot serves as a vehicle for the character. By way of example, I would cite the work of Janet Evanovich in her Stephanie Plum series. Each novel has its own story line, but the story is carried by the character of Stephanie Plum. I read all of those books, and not because of the plot. I read them because I love the characters and want to know what will happen to her and how she will react. What mess will Stephanie get into next? How will she get out of it? And will she ever marry Joe Morelli?
Characters like Evanovich's Stephanie Plum or Lisa Scottoline's Bennie Rosato and Company make us want to be a part of their lives, to cheer their successes, smile at their faux pas, and cry at their losses. I don't know about you, but I would love to have lunch with Stephanie or a glass of wine with Bennie.
Think of the kind of person with whom you enjoy spending time. Most of us like to be in the company of people who are interesting, intelligent, funny, and real. I'm sure we've all read a book at some point in which the characters fell flat. If the protagonist is no more distinct that the doorman who has one line in the whole story, how can the reader develop a relationship with him or her? Why would you care? It's about more than describing the character in physical detail, though that helps. As a reader, I always want to be able to picture the characters. Before I start to write a new book, I do a brief character sketch. (I'm not one of those writers who write a detailed synopsis up front. I fly by the seat of my pants.) I've learned, however, that having a sketch of each character, including their physical description and a few personality traits helps to flesh out the character as I write. I then find a photo that most closely captures my image of the character and save it in a file.
For example, in order to connect with the characters in one of my works in progress, I saved photos of Evangeline Lilly who stars in Lost and Carter Oosterhouse a hunky carpenter formerly on the TLC program Trading Spaces. These two capture the image in my head of my characters, Jenny and Patrick. Having a visual image of the characters makes them more real to me and, hence, makes my writing of them more real to the reader.
Giving characters a quirk or habit can make them more memorable, even more likable. This can be a gesture, a flaw, or a style of speech. Think of the character of Lt. Col. Frank Slade played by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. His quirk was the word, "Whoo-ha." This one word made the character both memorable and distinct.
I like to get inside my characters, see what makes them tick, look at the world from their viewpoint. Writing a character from the inside out gives him or her more depth and takes the reader into the character's mind and heart. And isn't that what writing is about—connecting our characters with the reader in mind and heart?
A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for a great post, Linda. I love those Stephanie Plum books! Can you tell us more about your book, Shooting Into the Sun?
Nature photographer Rylee Morgan has created an orderly, settled life for herself.
When she finds an advertisement that might lead to her estranged father, she takes a photo assignment to the west coast to investigate.
With her younger sister, Lexie, in tow following the breakup with her fiancé, Rylee is focused on two things: finding the man who may be her father and doing her job.
Lexie lives life by her own set of rules, or lack of rules, and Rylee's plans are further unsettled when Lexie invites a hitchhiker to join them on their journey.
When people know they’re about to do the wrong thing, they don’t look you in the eye. Parents were no different.
~ * ~
“Never shoot into the sun.” Her father repositioned himself to pose for the photograph.
“Why not?” Rylee Morgan lowered the camera and squinted at him.
“Because it’s a rule. If you follow the rules, you’ll avoid trouble, and you’ll create beautiful pictures.” He stood in the back yard, the white aluminum siding of their house providing a backdrop.
She wanted to believe him. Rylee snapped the photograph, capturing his image.
He motioned to the camera bag he’d set on the ground beside her. “You remember how to switch the lenses?”
“How about one more picture of us?” He pulled the camera from her hand and drew her close to his side. At twelve years of age, she was nearly his height. Extending his arm, the camera lens reflecting their images, he pressed the shutter release.
He handed her the camera, then hugged her against him. “I love you, angel. Don’t ever forget that.”
She choked on her words. “You don’t have to leave, Daddy.”
“Yes, honey, I do. I’ll talk to you soon, though.”
“Take me with you.” She knotted her fingers in his sleeve.
A muscle twitched along his jaw. “I can’t.” He held her for another moment, and then pried her hands free. Bolting to the car without a backward glance, he pulled from the drive.
“Daddy!” Rylee chased after him. At the curb, she raised the camera and clicked the shutter frantically until she heard the whirr of rewinding film. Tears blurred her last glimpse. His car turned and disappeared from her view.
She hugged the Nikon against her chest and cried.
~ * ~
Never shoot into the sun--the voice played in her head. The rules she had learned early in her career never failed to produce flawless photographs. The rules she had developed for life had not served her as well. In the sixteen years since her father’s departure, Rylee had kept herself busy, focused on her career, and safe inside her well-constructed boundaries.
Rylee resituated the tripod and checked the sun’s position. She stepped behind the camera, looked once again through the lens and waited, watching the slight movement of the leaves. Water bubbled over rocks. Slowing the shutter speed, she could create a smooth cascade effect. Blue sky and white clouds reflected on the stream’s surface. This stretch of the rapids where the Youghiogheny River ran through Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania was her favorite spot for shooting.
Her thumb rested on the shutter release, prepared for just the right moment. The breeze subsided and the shadows shifted. Then, just as she pressed the button, some jerk decided to walk on water.
Rylee lifted her head and stared. A hiker made his way across the exposed rocks and into the middle of the narrow river--directly into the center of her view. She walked to the water’s edge and, with hands on hips, shouted, “Excuse me! You’re ruining my shot.”