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Before I started writing my fantasy story (80,000 words so far) I had a pretty strong outline prepared. Within the structure of my plot, I wrote relatively organically and my characters started to develop their personalities.

One character in particular (a traumatised fifteen year old girl) grew a very different personality than I'd initially designed her and I'm very proud of the result. There is now a ripple effect whereby a lot of my plot no longer makes sense in light of these character changes.

Given that my initial plot was quite basic (and perhaps not very interesting), I'm faced with a decision:

Should I salvage my work by adapting the story around my evolved characters, or start again and write a different story and include the best elements from this first attempt?

Also, does anyone have any general advice for this kind of situation?

7

In my experience, it's only when characters start making demands of their own that I can really start to think of them as people, and only when these demands begin to have consequences within the world of the story that I begin to really care about them.

I think your problem (though please correct me if I'm wrong) is that you didn't anticipate this. You expected to have complete control over your characters, and outlined the plot under the assumption you could twist them to fit it. Now your characters have grown into themselves, and your plot has to change to accommodate them.

Should I salvage my work by adapting the story around my evolved characters, or start again and write a different story and include the best elements from this first attempt?

The key question, I think, is whether the fundamental nature of your story has to change. If your story is based around the most central and immutable aspects of your characters' personalities, it shouldn't matter. You may have to revise a few ideas, and adjust the flow of the narrative, but you should be just fine. You can modify your plot, but keep the essence of the story (and perhaps most of the scenes you've already written) roughly intact.

If your story is built on the less fundamental aspects of your characters' personalities, the sort of things that may change as characters become better realized, then I think you may need to make much deeper changes. If the essential form of your story doesn't flow naturally from its characters, from their fundamental nature and the actions it drives them to take, then (at least, if I'm right about the type of story you're trying to write) you might well have problems anyway, regardless of whether their non-essential nature has changed or not.

16

Always work around your characters. They're what drives the story forward, not your plot. Without interesting characters, you've just got a series of events happening one after the other which wouldn't make for a very good book at all.

I once had a character I wanted to go to a specific location. She didn't want to go. There was no reason I could think of for her to be there other than I wanted her to. Later, I changed it to be that she heard about what happened at that location and it gave her the anger and drive she needed to progress without her ever stepping foot near the place.

Listen to your characters. Don't try to make them do anything they don't want to.

13

You may be discovering the difference between a plot and a story. A plot is a series of events. A story is an arc of rising tension followed by a resolution. Events intervene in the lives of characters to drive the rise in tension, but the tension itself comes from the characters, who they are, what they want, and what they are willing to do to get it.

It is often quite easy to come up with a detailed outline of a plot without putting any real thought into the arc of the story. When that happens, the result will either be a flat story, or, as in your case, you will begin to discover who the characters are, and therefore what the sources of tension are, as you write.

At that point, the sequence of events that you have outlined will almost certainly not be the sequence of interventions you need to drive the tension of your story. Why would they be? They were not designed for that purpose.

Outlining a story is much harder work than outlining a plot, and it is often hard to tell the difference. But a plot outline without a very firm idea of the story arc whose tension the plot is driving, simply isn't going to hold up.

So, on this occasion and in general my advice is the same: find your story arc. Find the tension that drives the story. Then write a plot to fit. Whether you can outline your story arc before you begin or whether you have to start writing your characters in order to figure out what tension drives them, is something you may need to discover for yourself. There are specific techniques for mapping the rising tension of a story arc, for mapping out the two-steps-forward-one-step-back structure of many plots. Different approaches are likely to work for different people.

Whatever you do though, always remember that plot is the servant of story and until you understand the tension the drive the story arc, you don't know what your story is yet.

3

If you have been doing writing for a while you soon come to the realization that the characters take on their own life and drive the story. All good books are driven not by the story line but rather the characters. By all means allow the characters to become true and real and take you where they may. You imbue characters with true and lifelike personalities subconsciously and thus eliminate the possibility of a contrived and artificially sounding plot. Furthermore, the reader identifies easier with a character whom is fully dimensional rather than a scripted actor in a storyline. The very best part of this is that you are along for the ride and cant wait to see how the story ends!

2

Don't forget that a valuable part of character is tension. People don't "make sense" most of the time, and neither does every character have to. (Recently, I had a grad student friend who's in the country as a refugee from Russia on the basis of his homosexuality ask on social media for a ride to the border to meet his young husband, who was refusing to submit a refugee status claim lest it damage his professional prospects; the call was answered by a gay priest-in-training he had never met before. Talk about a situation making sense -- but how interesting!)

But, of course, the moment you feel you have to "force" something (and not just work hard at it), then, as the other answerers have noted, you should probably listen to your instincts and ensure your characters are doing what feels natural to them, inconsistencies and all. Otherwise it feels contrived, which is a price not worth paying for the sake of plot.

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First off, I apologize for posting this as an answer, but since my rep is not yet developed, that is all I can do as of this moment.

Second, I may not yet be fully familiar with "they way things work around here", so maybe this is not appropriate.

However, I simply wanted to state my gratitude to the answers to this question. I am a very new author/writer (4000 words, first book) and I too have struggled a bit with the 'characters and their story/natural flow vs plot-outline' and I found these answers and their points absolutely inspirational. I am not exaggerating when I say that I almost teared up from excitement and motivation. I am sure that the struggle doesn't simply go away to never reappear, but this all makes the struggle meaningful.

Thank you all.

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