For me, character is everything in a story, and I generally find that when I’m stuck with my plot, it’s because I don’t know my characters well enough yet. Plot comes from character. People want/hate/fear something and that leads them to do something, and that’s all plot is.
So when my young writers are stuck on plot, I always tell them to try going back to their characters and finding out more about them. Character interviews are really helpful when you’re first getting to know a new character, and there’s one here you can use, but when you get deeper into the plot it’s helpful to start really interogating a character’s motives.
I find these 6 Questions To Ask Your Charactersreally useful for that. And you should use them for all the most important characters in your story, not just the main character.
(Stand by for memes!)
1. What do they want? – this is the external goal they’re aiming for, eg to win the race, to get the girl, to defeat the monster, to find the buried treasure etc. The antagonist is in the way of this (or, if the character is the antagonist, then the protagonist is in the way). e.g. Darth Vader wants to rule the Galaxy
2. What do they need? – this is an internal transformation which they may not even be aware that they need, e.g. love, to learn to ask for help, to be their true self, to be less arrogant, to be more confident, to learn to trust someone, to stand up for what’s right, to see their own or someone else’s worth etc. Darth Vader needs to remember he was once a good person
3. What is the lie they believe? – this is the reason they have to be transformed. E.g. they believe they are worthless, powerless, guilty of something, unlovable etc, or maybe they believe that one person can’t make a difference, that boys don’t cry, that winning/money/popularity is all that matters, or that people can’t be trusted etc. Darth Vader believes that power is all that matters
4. What is their ‘ghost’ or ‘wound’? – this is something that happened in their past (probably long before this story even started) and it’s the reason they believe the lie. E.g. someone once betrayed them and now they believe that people can’t be trusted, or their parents rejected them and now they feel no one could ever love them, their dad yelled at them for crying and now they think boys shouldn’t show emotion, etc. Darth Vader was once a slave with no power who couldn’t save his mother from slavery so now he believes power is all that matters
5. What flaw results from their lie? – as a result of their lie they will behave in a certain way, e.g. if they believe people are not trustworthy, they may be hostile and keep people at a distance. If they believe they aren’t worthy of love they may be very shy and try to hide. If they believe winning is everything they may be arrogant and competitive. Darth Vader becomes a power-hungry tyrant and bully
6. What truth will they discover? – this is the opposite of their lie, and finding it out will transform forever their behaviour and their life. E.g. they discover that there’s more to life than money/popularity, or that they are capable of making a difference or being brave etc. Once they know this truth, it will help them to fix their flaw and either achieve their original goal (their ‘want’) or see that they don’t need it after all. Darth Vader discovers that his son’s life matters more to him than power (so he stops being a bully and gives up his original power-hungry goal by killing the Emperor)
By the time you’ve done this for your main characters, you’ll be bursting with new ideas for your plot!