I live in a house with teenage girls. This means I’m constantly updated on the latest regarding Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. One daughter is in favor of their rumored recent reunion. One not so much. The youngest is too young to care. I’m likely too old to care. No matter what you think of the recoupling of Justin and Selena, you probably cringe a little like I do whenever you hear their “couple” name. Jelena.
That’s exactly why I’ve decided to throw a new writing term at you. The next time you hear someone on the radio going on and on about Jelena, I want your writer brain to replace it with this word . . .
Every book needs it. It’s the essential coupling that must take place for a book to work. James Scott Bell and Jeff Gerke have written about it. I’ve heard numerous conference speakers address it. It’s a tried and true basic recipe for potent novel construction. Guess what it is yet?
The marriage of character & plot. Chlot.
Ten years and fifteen novels ago, I spewed out a book. It was an emotional journey. But when it came to plot it was sorely lacking. Call me a slow learner, but fifteen novels later I get how important it is to hurt my characters—to bring them to their breaking point. I understand that a novel that doesn’t include the cohabitation of character and plot is a novel with gaping holes.
Chlot. Character + Plot.
10 Questions to Help Build Stronger Characters10 Questions to Help Develop a Compelling Plot
- What does my character want more than anything in life and how can I keep her from getting it?
- Who does my character feel closest to and how could I threaten that relationship?
- What does my main character fear most? How could I incite that fear in some way to the book
- Where does my main character place most of her trust? And how can that trust be damaged?
- How could my character’s deepest secret come back to haunt her?
- Is there a way to force my character to relive a horrible experience, tapping into a psychological, torturous replay?
- What has the power to push my character to the breaking point and how can I introduce that something at a vulnerable moment in my character’s life?
- How will my reading audience best connect with this character? How will they relate?
- Does my main character learn something powerful about herself that will impact the rest of her life?
- Am I being too nice to my character because sometimes she reminds me of a loved one or even me?
- What can happen in this scene that will cause readers to worry?
- Who can I kill, maim, or severely mentally injure?
- How can I force my character into a setting that terrifies her?
- What opponent can my character face that has a good chance of crushing her?
- What kind of danger can I throw at my main character?
- How can I set it up so my character is betrayed?
- How can I take what my character wants most and make it feel increasingly impossible to achieve?
- What is mentally or physically immobilizing my character so they are unable to act against their greatest threat?
- What perceived or real enemy can suddenly gain an advantage, causing my main character to doubt their strength/intelligence/ability to flee harm (whether perceived or real)?
- How can time play a role in my character’s stress? Deadlines? Urgency? Life or death matters?