Teachers Write: What’s your character’s knot?

I’m working through a novel revision right now with a huge focus on character. Specifically, I’m studying the growth of my main character throughout the book, because if a character doesn’t grow and change…well, there’s not much of a story to be told.

I’ve been reading this book, which I recommend:

Jeff Gerke’s PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER takes a hard look at what we really need to make our characters live on the page. Every character, Gerke says, should start with a knot, which he describes like this:

I refer to your character’s problem as his knot. If you’ve worked with ropes much, especially in a nautical setting, you know they have to run smoothly through eyelets and pulleys and across capstans. A knot in the wrong rope at the wrong place can result in irritation, delay, or even disaster

So it is with your character. There he is, going along fine, minding his business, when something causes a knot to form in the rope of his life. Maybe he sees it and begins working on untying it. Maybe he sees it and doesn’t work on it. Maybe he doesn’t see it at all and the problems it’s causing are happening in his blind spot.

Whether he knows about it or is working to correct it or not, the knot is messing up his life.

                          ~from PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER by Jeff Gerke, p. 85.

Good stuff, this is.

So today’s prompt is this:  What is your character’s knot?  Remember that when we talk about a knot, we’re talking about a character’s internal problem, rather than the bear that may be about to eat him or her. I’m not denying that’s a problem, but it’s not the kind of internal struggle we’re talking about here.  If you have a work-in-progress, write a little about your main character’s knot (or your antagonist’s knot… bad guys have knots, too, you know!)  If this doesn’t fit what you’re working on right now, try writing about the knot of the main character in one of your favorite books that you’ve read. What’s Harry Potter’s knot? What about Katniss?

Write away…and feel free to share excerpts & thoughts in the comments if you’d like!

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3 Comments

  1. Posted October 12, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Character knot! I LOVE IT! I need to get Jeff’s book. I love delving into the layers of my character. The internal mountains are so fun to climb.

  2. Posted October 12, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Great way to think about character– and what makes the knot tighten? What makes it unravel?
    Thanks Kate! Happy Writing to all,
    Erin

  3. Posted October 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Love this way of looking at it. Very useful advice as I’m working on a new character I haven’t been able to get very far with. Will definitely try this technique.

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