Fiction Friday: What I Learned at the Plotting Through Character Workshop
This was, without question, the best writing workshop I've ever attended. (And I've been to a few.)
It was drawn from Break Into Fiction, a book co-written by Mary and Dianna Love. It contains 11 templates to help you think through who your characters are, what decsisions they make, and the outcomes of those decisions. The templates are designed to really drive home the linkage between the character's choices and where she (or he) winds up. (A linkage sometimes missing in my own work.)
The format of the workshop was for Mary to give a short lecture on each template, then allow participants to fill out that template for our protagonists (with the expectation that, once we returned home, we'd go back through and fill them out for our antagonist/love interest/villain/all of the above). While we were working away at a big conference table, Mary was available in another room for individual consultation. I met with her several times and each time she'd gently guide me away from stuffing my plot full of random, unconnected events and toward creating causal links between my character, her choices and the outcomes of those choices, which in turn drove the next round of choices and outcomes.
Mary didn't try to replot my novel or redesign my characters, but she did point out when I was heading for trouble:
o The places where my character seemed too passive
o My attempt to create a four-act structure, rather than the three-act structure U.S.readers expect.
o The importance of driving the character's decisions through motivations that would resonate with the reader emotionally.
One of my biggest takeaways was a much better understanding of subplots. Mary differentiates between subplots, which are integral to the main plot and cannot be removed without destroying the central story, and secondary plot lines, which mirror the main plot and deepen the thematic statement of the novel, but would not impact our ability to understand the main story if removed. That seems really simple now, but I have read a ton of stuff on this topic and never come across a clear-cut definition that I could understand before.
If you're interested in writing a tightly-plotted, character-driven novel (and these are not mutually exclusive), I recommend this book.