A reader follows a plot by the changes that occur in a character’s life. If their aim is to find the lost treasure of the Incas, then how the situation develops—if they seem to be getting closer or further from the goal—will be the primary way to tell how things are progressing.
Changes in the physical world indicate that people are acting in order to realise their goals. If the scenario remains static, then you have no plot.
But as things change in the physical world, they have an effect on the character instigating them. If things are going well, if things are going badly, if outside forces are getting involved—all these variables not only change the external situation, they also change the character internally.
If Billy Joe ask Tammy Jane to the prom and she says no, that isn’t just a setback requiring a new approach, it will also change Billy Joe’s emotional frame of mind.
Plot isn’t just about trying various paths until the character finds the right one, it is also about how a character handles the journey. In fact, while the external stuff keeps the intellect engaged, it’s the internal stuff that keeps a grip on readers’ emotions.
Even though most stories show a change in a character as they make realisations and have moments of insight, these often get shoved into the end section of a book. But change is rarely only a single moment of epiphany. Smaller shifts are happening all the time.
When Billy Joe gets a big fat ‘No’ from Tammy Jane, how it affects him will depend on how she said it and what kind of person he is. Both characters will be affected by the encounter. Billy Joe might be horribly embarrassed or angry or depressed. What it won’t do is have no effect other than him having to find another date.
This change in the character will also affect how they deal with other things and other people in their life.
Rather than the bad guy always being hated, the best friend always being asked for advice and the girl across the hall being flirted with, whatever happens to a character in pursuit of their main goal will have a knock on effect that allow for a broader range of interactions.
As long as the reader can see the link between cause and effect it won’t seem out of character, it will make the characters seem more three dimensional. Their behaviour is a result of what just happened, repercussions of what they tried to do, what they now have to deal with—in other words the plot. And what they do next will be informed by their current state of mind.
Along with the physical changes that mark where we are in the plot, these character changes also show the reader how things are progressing. In fact it’s these changes that reveal the kind of person we’re reading about and allow the reader to connect with the character on a much deeper level.If you found this post useful, please give it a retweet. Cheers.