characters / plot / writers tips

Writers Tip #62: It’s Not What Happens. It’s Your Character’s Reaction That Matters

writers tips

Great tips for soon-to-be great writers

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Worry less about plot and more about character development.

If writers had to depend upon plot to sell a story, we’d all go broke. There is one basic plot. Hero starts out with a tolerable/happy/exciting life. Something happens that throws her/him into crisis. S/he tries to solve it (over and over) and fails each time. When s/he is about to fail for the final time, Eureka! Against all odds, Hero pulls it out and is changed forever from the experience.

Here’s a secret: The story line isn’t what matters; it’s how the Hero reacts to events that makes a blockbuster novel. This is where writers can explore a multitude of plotting options. Does the Hero problem solve with his heart or head? Does s/he do it alone or with help? As a lawyer, doctor, archeologist, teacher, some other unique career? That where the story comes in. As individual each person in the world is, that’s how many variations on a theme there are. What you came up with from the short plot I outlined is likely considerably different from my paleo-historic plot line.

So revel in that. Let your voice be heard. Spin your yarn with abandon. The more unique is your imagination, the more spirited your muse, the more likely you will succeed.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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5 thoughts on “Writers Tip #62: It’s Not What Happens. It’s Your Character’s Reaction That Matters

  1. “Here’s a secret: The story line isn’t what matters; it’s how the Hero reacts to events that makes a blockbuster novel.” And there lies the elusive Holy Grail most writers are seeking…
    Yes, you are right Jacqui, finding unique ways to have the hero react is what we all wish to tackle and achieve as writers. Thanks for the reminder! :-)
    E

  2. I’m reading the story of one of the writers in my writer’s group and that lesson struck home. He had a traditional plot–as described above. His challenge: how his characters would react–and they were boring! Sadly, I had to share that with him. (the good news is, he’s got a lot of talent).

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