So we got lots of interesting answers to yesterday’s inquiry about whether to start with plot or character. Nobody said that they always started with one or the other. Most said that they sometimes start with character, sometimes plot, but then quickly try to supply the other so that it can become “real”, which makes sense. So it seems that there are two options…
Option 1: Come up with an interesting character, and let them simmer a brief while, but then rather than let them simply stew in their own juices, you have to yank them our of the frying pan and into the fire, or else they’re never going to amount to anything more than their raw ingredients. The simmering makes them spicy, but the fire forges them into what they must become. (Have I extended this metaphor enough?)
Option 2: Come up with the beginnings of a plot, some images, some twists, but before you let yourself get to the end, stop and ask yourself “So who’s the most volatile character who could encounter this problem and make it their own? What is the relationship of their goals to what they encounter: Is it their dream, their nightmare, or something more ironic than that? In the end, how is this going to change them?
The key is to let Hegel be your guide. Thesis plus antithesis equals synthesis. Your hero’s personality is the thesis. The dangerous opportunity that arrives has to be the antithesis to that. When the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, a story is born.
The hero must affect the events and the events must affect the hero. That’s the first test of a great story idea. Clooney in Up in the Air is a thesis that never meets his antithesis. He is a character who is not transformed by the plot. The alien invasion in War of the Worlds simply collapses on its own. It is a plot unaffected by the characters.
Or, put another way: the best stories are not studies of inherently meaningful characters or sequences of inherently meaningful events. The best stories are about the meaning that is suddenly created by the collision of a volatile character with a transformative series of events. You can start with a character or a plot, but you don’t have a story until you figure out the nexus of the two.
Okay, when we come back to this, I think I have the 9 elements of a good idea...