What happens in your story?

And who is making it happen?

Linda’s blog August 24th

Over the past 20+ years I’ve been teaching creative writing, I’ve found there’s one type of story that tends to crop up time and again. It’s where the main character (the protagonist) isn’t the one directing the action. They are passive protagonists.

I often used Cinderella in my classes to illustrate various points, but I do find her a rather annoyingly passive main character. It’s the Fairy Godmother who gets her ready for the ball and it’s the prince who comes to find her. She tends to sit back and accept whatever comes her way – not active enough for me. Compare her to Scarlett O’Hara! She goes full out to get her man and when she can’t have him, she comes up with an alternative plan.Scarlett v Cinderella

Scarlett O’Hara wants Ashley Wilkes. When she finds out he’s marrying his cousin Melanie, Scarlett marries Melanie’s brother Charles Hamilton, to spite Ashley but also to stay close to him. Later, when she needs Rhett Butler’s money to save Tara, she goes after him. He’s in prison so Scarlett turns her attention to another wealthy man – Frank Kennedy, who was engaged to her sister. So, she snares him to get the money she needs.

That’s what your protagonists should do – be active!

I think the active/passive character has been really brought home to me in recent months, because of the Covoid 19 lockdown. Some people have become couch potatoes, drinking and eating more, TV bingeing, and constantly moaning about not being able to go down the pub or get their botox injections! Others have spring-cleaned the house and garden, finished DIY projects, set up regular communication with family and friends, started a new hobby, even a new business from home.

In order to overcome this problem of passive protagonists (like Cinderella), I am going to suggest just a little bit of planning. I can hear sighs coming from one or two of my writers! As I’m sure I’ve said before, if you are the sort of writer who can just sit down and reel off a story with all the right ingredients, then great. I envy you. And you will find plenty of writers who swear they never plan, never have a plot in mind before they start writing – they let the muse take them. Great! But if your muse doesn’t appear one day, try the plotting method 😊

Plotting will give your story a purposeful, forward motion and, hopefully, stop you from going off on unrelated tangents. It will also focus your attention on your protagonist, making sure he/she is in charge.landscape_logoLandscape Artist of the Year

A quick flashback to PAINTING. Do you ever watch Portrait Artist of the Year or Landscape Artist of the Year on Sky Arts? I’m hooked. As I have said, I’m no painter but I watch in fascination at how each artist builds their creation. Some, like the writers above, launch straight in with bold splashes of colour. Others take time in building up an outline of their subject which they will later fill out. These outlines can, of course, be changed during the course of the creation. But it’s a starting point that indicates what the artist is aiming for.

In creative writing, such an outline is, of course, the PLOT. And what I’d like you to think about for your next story, are the PLOT POINTS.

  • Plot points are the incidents which change the direction of the story.
  • These incidents MUST be connected to the protagonist who makes things happen ie
  • The main character does this, then as a result of that, this happens, and then the protagonist makes another decision and this happens, and so on.
  • This type of plotting is known as Cause and Effect, or a Zig-Zag plot.
  • When you start to plan or plot your story, you should list a number of plot points – where the action changes. For a short story you’ll need perhaps only two or three; for novels, many more.

David Trottier, an American screenwriter and university lecturer, defines seven plot points:

  1. The Backstory, or status quo when your story starts
  2. The Catalyst or Inciting Incident that really begins your story
  3. The Big Event that changes your protagonist’s life
  4. The midpoint – a point of no return for your main character
  5. The Crisis – their low point
  6. The Climax or showdown when they face their opposition
  7. The Realisation – your character has changed.

Not every story will have all these plot points, but they are worth considering, whatever you are writing, as they do form a logical, forward-moving structure.

Plot points will give you at least a starting point. They are not set in concrete. They can be changed. Characters may take over your story at will. But at least you have an outline – and you can start writing! No excuses!

Have a good week.


ps the autocorrect wanted to change muse to mouse – 21st-century technology!

2 thoughts on “What happens in your story?

  1. I am not a huge plotter but even a short story has to have a direction, a point and a satisfying conclusion in mind. Last week I tried my hand at a children’s story and your prompt on character gave me, an animal, his skills, his failings, his enemy and his motivation. These small stepping stones gave me a fabulous skeleton to build my story around! Plotting doesn’t have to take days and can provide solid starting blocks even for non planners like me! Thanks Linda.


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