Plot Grows Out of Character [en]

[fr] J'ai enfin compris comment écrire des histoires. Les histoires naissent des personnages. Il faut partir des personnages et les développer et les écrire à la vie, et non pas partir de l'histoire elle-même.

“Plot grows out of character,” says Anne Lamott, author of “Bird by Bird (Some Instructions on Writing and Life)”, which I am currently devouring.

Today, February 20th 2010, I think I have finally understood how to come up with stories. The stories come from the people in them, the characters. Who they are, what they’ve been through, what they care about, the choices they make, the way they react to what happens to them.

I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but failed at coming up with anything resembling a story or a plot. I started writing 50-word short stories about 18 months ago to jog my creativity, and it has worked pretty well in demonstrating both that I am capable of coming up with story ideas and that it is possible to excercise creativity.

But so far, I have been concentrating on the story, and not on the people in it.

Recently, I have realized how very good I am at imagining explanations for the behaviour of people surrounding me, or people in general. I tend to have a pretty anxious personality, which means I have “Disaster Channel” playing in my brain 24/7 (fear not for my sanity, though, after years of therapy I have learned to turn off the sound and ignore it most of the time).

So, give me a situation, say, X. is late, and my brain will immediately and effortlessly produce half a dozen plausible and disastrous reasons for her lateness. As I have learnt, though, that Disaster Channel does not provide a realistic view of the world, I have also trained myself to come up with “reasonable” and “reassuring” explanations.

I’ll stop there with the dissection of my psyche. Suffice to say that I am really good at inventing a whole range of explanations for human behaviour. (OK, with a biais towards the disastrous, I’ll give you that.)

Today, at long last, I have realized that coming up with a plot is just that. A story is about people and their behaviour. Writing it is about coming up with characters that are believable, and listening to what they want you to write.

To prove the point, I have written no less than two “really shitty first drafts” over the last few hours.

I’ve unlocked something today.