11 February 2007

Characters Consistency is Paramount

Partway through a two-hour plot consultation, the writer I was working with related a scene in which the protagonist does something entirely out of character. The protagonist of this young adult novel steals pot from her father's illegal pot growing shed.

"Whoa!" I cried. "Where does this come from? You've set up the story so that the protagonist does not respect her father because of his pot growing, right?"

"She's not going to smoke any. She wants to get back at her dad."

"She's going to take enough so he'll know?"

"No, just a bud or so."

"How is that getting back at her father?"

"Well, maybe it's not, but she needs to have the pot for later in the story."

"Ah, ha!"

What this writer has done is not an uncommon mistake. Writers, in their zeal for the dramatic action plot, lose sight of the character development plot.

Character is the story. Thus, character consistency is paramount. This writer knew that. But because the plot demanded that the protagonist get busted for the illegal pot, she had justified the action to herself. The process of having to jusify it to me made her realize the problem.

When the writer saw the error of her ways, she also realized the act was actually a flaw in the dramatic action plot as well and immediately found the answer that had been sitting there all along. The protagonist's sidekick was the one who takes it. As we proceeded in the consultation, the logic of this revealed itself more and more throughout the story.