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  • Writer's pictureBecca Whitham

Binge Watching

Have you been watching lots of TV shows and movies during this pandemic? I certainly have, particularly in the last few days. I'm home alone for the time being, so I'm watching movies my husband will hate. Plus, Hallmark Christmas movies are on and they're almost a seasonal requirement, right?

Last night I watched something that reminded me of a very important lesson I've learned during my writing journey: Make sure your characters act like real people with believable motivations rather than as puppets to create corny conflict. I'm what's often called a "plot first" novelist, meaning my natural story-telling inclination is knowing the journey/action my characters take rather than developing characters who then go on a journey. It's neither right nor wrong to be a plot first or a character first novelist, but you'll ask yourself different questions to make your story believable depending on where you start. Character first novelists need to ask what could go wrong for this person; plot first novelists ask what kind of person would have the hardest time with the story's central conflict.

There are many things in life where you can play to your strengths and forget about your weaknesses. For example, if you aren't a great cook, you can be the person who knows the best restaurants. In some sports, like football, if you aren't great and one aspect of the game, you can play another. But in writing, you can't go with your strength and forget about your weakness. Every story must be balanced. Characters with believable motivations must go on a journey that's full of conflict and personal growth.

In college, we studied the poetry of Robert Frost. Our professor told us to pick one of his rhyming poems and tell us which word he chose first and which one was chosen because it rhymed with the first one. I couldn't do it. And that's how it should be with books and movies. The audience shouldn't be able to tell if you're a plot first or character first story-teller.

As your binge watching, if a story isn't engaging, ask yourself whether the writer is a plot first or character first story-teller. It will be good practice and might--MIGHT--make the story a little more enjoyable.

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