My current project is a confusing web of characters and subplots that are causing me trouble to ‘control the madness.’ I think we may all need a second to step back and look at the key factors that produce and drive a story.
I believe that all stories start with a base of developed characters in a developed setting. Though a novel may be considered “plot driven” the conflict and plot usually still come back to characters and their decisions. Without strong characters we have no hope to have a well-honed story.
Writers need to know their characters pretty well at the outset of the story and—and this is the most important part of the post--stay true to them throughout the project. The plot is fueled forward by these characters’ decisions and the consequences thereof. We can organize and make sense of our stories by always remembering the characters’ personalities, relationships, and desires. Even the all-important conflict that enters into—and then fuels—the story comes through motivations of still other characters.
When trying to contain the chaos of a story, I think we naturally want to look to a timeline. We want to watch how we organize the plot into scenes and how and when everything happens. I think it makes more sense however—if I haven’t gotten the point across already—to look at the why it all happens. Look at the weaving of the characters not the events.
The entire timeline comes together because of and through characters. Lost? Analyze your characters! At every point in the story every character is thinking and wanting/working for something. What is that? How are they going to get it? Who else’s goals may conflict or join with theirs when interwoven?