I have a character but no plot–how can I develop one, Pear?
Close your eyes. Imagine your character with me. There they are, glorious in their shining newness, a full-bodied apparition standing before you. Let’s see who they really are.
Start asking questions, now.
Gently for the surface things–who are you? where are you from? what are you doing now?
With pokes and prods for the more in-depth things–what do you want? where are you going? what are your skills?
Small-scale torture instruments for the deep down things–what do you fear? what are your failures? what do you hate?
These just scratch the surface of what you can pull out of a character to help shape your plot. Consider using the GOTE method of figuring out a character:
Goal: What does your character want? Try to think both abstractly and concretely. Is there something your character is seeking, or someone? Or some event your character wants to have happen? If your idea of your character doesn’t already have a goal worked into it, take a moment to brainstorm–what do you know about your character and what sort of things would it make sense for that character to be wanting? If you character is a sky-sailing pirate, they’re likely on the lookout for excellent booty, but what kind of booty and why? If your character is a foster child, maybe they’re searching for a sibling, a parent, a home, but what would their ideal outcome be?
Obstacles: Take the goal you just outlined for your character and consider some possible problems the character may come up against. This could be personal flaws that will get in their way, concrete people or things that are seeking an opposite outcome or simply don’t want the character to succeed, or even society’s beliefs that keep the character from being able to achieve their goal. Outline at least 3, preferably 5. From these, you’ll be able to start filling out the plot arc points.
Tactics: What are some of your character’s abilities? What would they be most likely to try to succeed in the event of an obstacle by trying? What’s their modus operandi? Their tactics will rely heavily on both personality, what they’re trained in, and even their environment. Are they the kind of character who would run before trouble? If so, do they prefer alleys, rooftops, broad and crowded streets? Are they trained with a longbow and more likely to try using that before diplomacy? If your character’s a gruff, old grave-digger who’s had the job for nigh on 40 years, who’s out to find the family members of an unmarked grave he discovered, he may be more likely to try showing people things than talking to them. Or he may be desperate for company and ramble on at length. Tactics are intrinsically tied to who your character is.
Expectations: What does your character hope for. This is different than their goal. This evaluates how they think. Are they optimistic and expect their confrontations to all go their way, or are they pessimistic and always expecting the worst? This will impact how characters react when things don’t go their way or how they expect them to. Will they be able to respond appropriately and in time?
That’s where your plot will come from–your characters’ wants, needs, goals, fears, flaws. All those things bundled up together is what makes a plot compelling. Your plot will be character-focused, but not necessarily without action. Take your character’s goal and build from there using the obstacles you laid out. Defining their tactics will help you decide how they will attempt to combat the obstacles, helping you lay out the scenes. Knowing a character’s expectations will help you write smoother reactions when they’re needed. Taking all these things into account will help make your character and your plot more understandable, believable, and natural.
(Need help growing a plot from your character? My ask box is always open.)