Using Character to Move Your Story Forward

I belong to a women’s book club, and this month we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I enjoyed the book, but how the author develops her main character made me reflect on how I structure my own stories.

In The Language of Flowers the main character is Victoria, a damaged young girl on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system. She loves flowers, and uses their inherent meanings to communicate to others what she cannot.

The author lets us learn about Victoria through her actions, not exposition- we learn why Victoria is the way she is through her experiences. But the focus is not on what happens TO Victoria, but instead it is on the choices that she makes.

Somewhere in my ongoing education as a writer, I read that you should figure out what is the worst thing that you could do to your character at that point in the story. And then you should do that exact thing to them, which will propel the story forward. I understood the concept, but was always hesitant to torture my characters. After reading this book, I realize there is an alternate approach. Rather than think of what could happen to my character, I can think of what the choices are that the character might make and which one will move the story forward the most. I suspect it will be the choice that is the hardest, and the one that will require the most significant consequences.

For those of you organized thinkers like me, think of it as a decision tree. As you write your character and they reach a decision point, what are the different choices they could possibly make? And then for each choice, what would be the consequences? And if you later don’t like where the story headed, you hopefully have multiple decision points with which to go back and start a new path.

I’m looking forward to trying this on my novel in progress. Maybe this will help me to get some energy behind more novel writing!

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One thought on “Using Character to Move Your Story Forward

  1. I love how tender you are toward your characters, Katie. Not that you’re letting them off easy, but you know I fall into the “torture” group of writers! 🙂

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