Some people prefer not to plot or can’t plot without loosing the drive to write. In writing lingo, this person is called a “panster” while people who prefer to plot are called “plotters”. Because they have at best has only a vague idea of where the story will go, pansters face some unique challenges. The “Panster Help” articles that appear scattered through this month are attempts to address some of these issues.
Pansters may not know where their characters are going but they do have characters. Story action happens when characters set goals, obstacles appear, and they go against these obstacles. The character may win, loose, appear to win, partially win, or win for now.
The goal gives the character a reason to act. If the character does not act, there is nothing to write about. By the end of the Beginning of the book, the character will have a long-term goal in mind but the in the Beginning, Middle, and End, the character will always need concrete, short-term goals. Concrete, so physical action or dialogue can occur. And short-term because each of these goals will be a step on your path to reach the greater goal.
The obstacles make the goal interesting to the reader and promote character and/or story growth. The reader likes (maybe even loves) your character but if the character does not struggle, the reader will loose interest. Obstacles need to be external – in the form of a person, action, or object – but the primary effects can still be internal.
The conflict arises from the character with the goal who faces the obstacle(s). Maybe the character questions previous beliefs, refuses to face fears, or realizes something about another person. A path of action may be removed or a new door of possibility opened.
When you are stuck, look at what has just happened to the character, what new immediate goals the character could make in an attempt to reach the long-term goal. Next look for obstacles to throw down on the path to that goal. Then decide how your character will react to those obstacles (considering fears, knowledge, and resources). Now you are writing again!