Writing: Character-driven plots

I’ve repeated probably too many times that I’m a plot driven person, but if my clever twists and turns aren’t driven by characters that readers want to spend hours with, I’m in trouble. When the last page is read and the book hits The End, what do readers remember? I’d bet on characters. With that in mind, I’ve paid more attention lately to character-driven books.

My friend, Karen Lenfestey, writes women fiction. The plots of her books aren’t driven by murders or battles (two of my favorite things:), but by how characters deal with life-changing challenges. The conflict and tension are more internal than external. How do you build a plot based on emotions instead of good vs. bad? I invited to her my blog to tell us how she does it.

How would you define women’s fiction?
I’d say women’s fiction is about the complicated relationships in a woman’s life: the dynamic between a boyfriend or spouse, children, siblings and girlfriends. Once, at a writer’s conference, I said that the main character needs to be likable and the mystery author beside me disagreed. He said, “My main character is a horrible drunk.” For me, if the character doesn’t have some redeeming qualities, I’m not willing to invest my time to follow her on her journey.

Who are your favorite authors in this genre?
I like Liane Moriarty (What Alice Forgot), Elizabeth Berg (The Art of Mending), Ellen Giffin (Babyproof), Anna Quindlen (Blessings), Susan Wiggs (Just Breathe) and Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs). I also love a good suspense novel written by Harlan Coben or Alafair Burke.

Do you outline a novel?
I spend a lot of time mulling things over in my mind. I try to create a character to whom I can relate and a problem which will challenge her. Usually I jot down ideas of what I want to have happen at some point in the novel, but it’s not that organized. I do try to keep roadblocks coming and increasing in intensity for my characters. I get bored if I’m reading a book that goes on for pages about what the scenery looks like. I want action!

How do you do your research?
The truth is, my real life is rather tame, so I’m forced to do research. I like to interview people and read about unfamiliar topics. For example, in my Secrets series, Bethany’s boyfriend, Parker, seems to be everything a woman could want: smart, kind and handsome. He also has Huntington’s disease. For me, this created dilemmas about whether he should get married and have kids. I did a lot of research on-line and I have a friend whose father had Huntington’s disease. She was gracious enough to share her experiences with me so that my book could ring true.

Any clues for someone who wants to try to write women’s fiction?
I aim for characters that feel real—like your neighbor or a good friend. I then give her some flaws and make her desperately want something that she can’t have. I write “Happy Endings with a Twist” because readers appreciate surprise endings.

Are you writing another 3 book series?
For some reason, I keep writing trilogies. I didn’t plan to, but my friends wanted to find out what happened next to everyone they’d fallen in love with in “A Sister’s Promise.” So, I wrote “What Happiness Looks Like.” When I wrote “On the Verge” which is about a newlywed who hits his head and his personality drastically changes, I invented new main characters, but my old favorites slipped back in there. I do think I’ll keep writing series because I’m not ready to walk away from my characters after just one book. Now I’m working on a brand new series. For me, this is the hardest stage. . .creating book 1.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in novels?
I’m not good at remembering names, but I like smart, witty and capable women like in Jennifer Weiner’s and Claire Cook’s novels. I just read a novel where the main character was a police officer, struggling with diabetes, when her mother got kidnapped. I loved that she had such a powerful job despite her medical condition.

Care to tell us about your new release?
In “A Mother’s Conviction” a doting foster mother competes against a less-than-stellar birth mother to win a little girl’s heart. Here’s the blurb: Single mom Bethany Morris loves her 6-year-old foster daughter, Willow, as if she were her own. When Willow’s real mother is released early from prison, Bethany isn’t ready to let the little girl go. She wonders if people really can change and tries to justify her reluctance to say good-bye by digging into the mother’s shady past.

Across the state line, Willow’s half-sister lives with her dad, Conner Walker, a man who never stays in one place for too long. When he returns to the town where he grew up, he realizes he’s been cheating his daughter out of a place to call home. For the first time in years, he wonders if he should keep running or risk making a stand in court.

To what lengths will Bethany and Conner go to keep their families together? Read “A Mother’s Conviction” to find out!

Thanks, Judy, for inviting me to stop by.

And thank you, Karen, for sharing with us!!

facebook.com/karen.lenfestey.3 Twitter: @KarenLenfestey I’m also on GoodReads

You might want to check out Karen’s new release, “A Mother’s Conviction,” available both in e-book and paperback at Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YQOPWQS

4 thoughts on “Writing: Character-driven plots

  1. What a great post. There’s so much to learn reading outside of our genres. I’ve fallen for Sarah Dessen. Her character driven books are charming and wonderful ya reads. Makes me want to try one. If you can try a romance, Judy, maybe I can try some chick lit. Stranger things have happened! Thanks for sharing!


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