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Here’s What to Do When You Have a Character and No Plot

This blog post is about  How to Write Characters without a Plot.

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This blog post is about how to write Characters without a plot.

how to write Characters without a plot

As a writer, it's not uncommon to find yourself with a well-developed character but no plot to place them in. This scenario can be both exciting and daunting. Your character, with all their traits, backstory, and quirks, is ready to leap off the page, but they need a world to inhabit and a journey to embark upon. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do when you have a character but no plot, helping you to transform your character into the heart of a compelling narrative.

how to write Characters without a plot


Understanding Your Character

Before diving into plot development, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of your character. This will not only help in shaping the plot but also ensure that the story remains character-driven. Here are some steps to achieve this:


1. Create a Detailed Character Profile

Start by building a detailed character profile. This includes:

  • Physical Appearance: Height, weight, hair color, eye color, distinguishing marks.
  • Personality Traits: Are they introverted or extroverted? Optimistic or pessimistic? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Background: What is their family like? Where did they grow up? What significant events shaped their life?
  • Goals and Motivations: What do they want to achieve? What drives them to pursue these goals?
  • Fears and Flaws: What are they afraid of? What personal flaws might hinder their progress?


2. Explore Their Relationships

Characters do not exist in a vacuum. Consider the relationships they have with others:

  • Family: Who are they related to? What is their family dynamic like?
  • Friends: Who are their closest friends? How did these friendships form?
  • Romantic Interests: Are they in a relationship? Have they had past relationships that impact their current behavior?
  • Enemies: Do they have any rivals or enemies? What caused these conflicts?


3. Identify Key Events in Their Past

Understanding your character’s history can provide valuable plot ideas:

  • Defining Moments: What are the key moments that defined their life? How did these events shape who they are today?
  • Traumas and Triumphs: Have they experienced significant losses or victories? How do these experiences influence their actions?

how to write Characters without a plot

Generating Plot Ideas from Your Character

Once you have a comprehensive understanding of your character, you can begin to generate plot ideas that are organically tied to who they are.


1. Focus on Their Goals and Motivations

Your character’s goals can be a fertile ground for plot development. Consider the following:

  • Internal Goals: These are personal, emotional, or psychological goals. For example, your character might want to overcome a deep-seated fear, find self-acceptance, or resolve a past trauma.
  • External Goals: These are tangible, outward goals. They might want to achieve a career milestone, win a competition, or complete a challenging quest.


2. Create Obstacles and Conflicts

Conflict is the engine of a story. Think about what obstacles might stand in the way of your character achieving their goals:

  • Internal Conflicts: These arise from within the character. They might struggle with self-doubt, guilt, or a moral dilemma.
  • External Conflicts: These come from outside forces. They might face opposition from other characters, societal pressures, or natural disasters.


3. Leverage Their Relationships

Relationships can drive the plot in unexpected and intriguing ways:

  • Allies and Mentors: Who can help your character on their journey? What lessons might they impart?
  • Rivals and Enemies: Who stands in your character’s way? Why do they oppose your character?
  • Romantic Interests: How does love complicate or motivate your character’s actions?

how to write Characters without a plot


Techniques for Plot Development

Now that you have a framework based on your character, let’s look at some specific techniques to develop your plot.


1. The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a classic storytelling structure that can provide a strong framework for your plot. It consists of several stages:

  • Ordinary World: Introduce your character in their normal life.
  • Call to Adventure: Something disrupts their ordinary world, presenting a challenge or quest.
  • Refusal of the Call: The character initially hesitates or refuses the call to adventure.
  • Meeting the Mentor: They encounter someone who provides guidance or tools.
  • Crossing the Threshold: The character commits to the adventure, leaving their ordinary world.
  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies: They face challenges, make allies, and encounter enemies.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave: They prepare for a significant challenge or confrontation.
  • Ordeal: They face a major crisis or life-and-death situation.
  • Reward: They achieve a goal or gain a significant reward.
  • The Road Back: They return to their ordinary world, often facing additional challenges.
  • Resurrection: They experience a final moment of death and rebirth.
  • Return with the Elixir: They return home changed, bringing something of value.


2. Three-Act Structure

The Three-Act Structure is another popular method for plotting stories:

  • Act One: Setup: Introduce the character, setting, and main conflict. End with an inciting incident that propels the character into the main story.
  • Act Two: Confrontation: The character faces escalating obstacles and challenges. This act often ends with a major turning point or crisis.
  • Act Three: Resolution: The character confronts the final challenge and the story’s conflicts are resolved.


3. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a creative technique that helps you in visualize and organize your plot ideas:

  • Start with Your Character: Place your character at the center of the mind map.
  • Branch Out: Create branches for different aspects of their life, such as goals, relationships, and conflicts.
  • Expand: Continue branching out from each node with specific events, obstacles, and turning points.


4. “What If” Scenarios

Asking “what if” questions can spark unique plot ideas:

  • What if your character’s greatest fear came true?
  • What if they discovered a hidden talent or power?
  • What if they had to team up with their worst enemy?
  • What if they were placed in an unfamiliar or dangerous environment?

how to write Characters without a plot


Putting It All Together

Let’s put these ideas into practice with an example. Suppose you have a character named Emma, a talented but insecure artist who dreams of making it big in the art world. Here’s how you might develop a plot around her:


1. Character Profile

  • Name: Emma Johnson
  • Appearance: Petite, with curly brown hair and green eyes.
  • Personality: Introverted, creative, self-doubting, determined.
  • Background: Grew up in a small town, always loved art, but faced criticism from her practical parents.
  • Goals: Wants to have her artwork displayed in a prestigious gallery.
  • Fears: Fear of failure and rejection.
  • Flaws: Tends to isolate herself and overthink decisions.


2. Plot Development

  • Goal: Emma wants to have her artwork displayed in a prestigious gallery.
  • Obstacle: The art world is highly competitive, and she struggles with self-doubt.
  • Conflict: Emma’s parents want her to pursue a more stable career, causing tension at home.
  • Inciting Incident: Emma receives an invitation to participate in a major art competition.
  • Mentor: She meets a seasoned artist who believes in her talent and offers guidance.
  • Tests and Challenges: Emma faces numerous setbacks, including harsh critiques and sabotage from a jealous competitor.
  • Climax: At the competition, Emma must overcome her self-doubt and deliver a stunning piece of art under pressure.
  • Resolution: Emma’s artwork is not only displayed but wins the competition, earning her recognition and confidence.


3. Three-Act Structure

  • Act One: Introduce Emma, her passion for art, her family’s disapproval, and the invitation to the competition.
  • Act Two: Emma’s preparation for the competition, her growing friendship with the mentor, and escalating challenges and conflicts.
  • Act Three: The climax at the competition, Emma’s victory, and the resolution of her family’s disapproval.


how to write Characters without a plot

Final Thoughts

Developing a plot when you have a character but no story can be a rewarding creative process. By deeply understanding your character and using their traits, goals, and relationships as a foundation, you can craft a narrative that is both engaging and character-driven. Whether you use classic structures like the Hero’s Journey or the Three-Act Structure or employ techniques like mind mapping and “what if” scenarios, the key is to let your character’s essence guide the plot. With patience and creativity, you’ll find that your character’s story naturally unfolds, leading to a compelling and cohesive narrative.

how to write Characters without a plot

This blog post is about How to Write Characters without a Plot.

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