Usually, people pick up their flaming pitchforks and go to war over characters versus plot. Instead of deciding that both are important, they want to come up with statements like “one paves the way to the other” and “multi-dimensional characters can exist in a poor plot” and….why would you purposefully stuff your story children in a lame story? Jeez.
As I wrap up my binge-read of The Lunar Chronicles, I decided to take some notes on how Marissa Meyer amped up her plot with every chapter and every book. Spoilers for Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and part of Winter may be present.
What are your characters afraid of?
This is where you pull out your inner sadistic Darth Vader and prod at your characters’ weakness. (As a brief sidenote, please don’t take that too seriously. I’ve seen many beginning authors be all: ‘i’m sooooo evil to my characters fear me let me practice my darth vader chuckle here in my cave’. Usually, that’s the fastest attitude to get your readers to not care at all. If you don’t care about your imaginary friends, why should I?) Prodding at your characters and making them face their fears is a great way to raise the stakes in your plot, as long as you make it tie in. Being incredibly random is never a good thing.
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
While your characters have to succeed occasionally (otherwise your book may be the most depressing thing ever, because your readers know that the characters will never win), take full advantage of “yes, but” successes. Those are one of the best things that can happen, plot-wise.
For instance, does Cress gain access to the security of the Lunar palace? Yes, but Thorne gets captured and she is trapped.
Does Wolf survive when he is captured? Yes, but he is turned into his worst fear: one of the queen’s own genetically modified soldiers.
Handing victory to your characters is never a good thing.
Trick your readers.
Don’t let every character be exactly what they seem. For instance, Cinder was firmly situated as an Earthen in my mind, especially with her prejudices toward Lunars. That was immediately flipped around when she proved to be Lunar herself. Unpredictable characters–even in third person, without the unreliability of a first-person narrator–should have secrets. Not only that, but they should misdirect the reader as to their true nature and backstory.
Let the plot grow your characters.
Thorne is firmly situated as someone who checks out looks over the heart. To get a deep romance with Cress, instead of a shallow one … he was blinded shortly after meeting her. This forced him to fall in love with someone in a new way, which changed his character.
Make clever villains.
I’m not saying your villain needs to be the stereotypical INTJ genius that will rule the world with their #cunning. Just make sure that your villains don’t live to thwart the protagonist, and that they truly will do the logical thing and back up their threats. For instance, Levana didn’t really care about Cinder at first. All she wanted was to marry Kai and use him to take over Earth. When Cinder threw herself into Levana’s plans, only then did she become more of a focal point.
what are your favorite plot devices? what is the best plot you remember from a book or movie?