Let’s go back to our example of 3 days of the condor. What does Condor (code name) want?
He would like to live. We were introduced to him in his perfect world. He works for the CIA, making good money reading fiction, doing a written analysis of the books, and sending them off. He sits in an office with smart people like him and has fun discussions about the books, and how viable are they for actual CIA work?
Man, that sounds like a job I’d like.
So, he enjoys his job, his friends, and his life. What do I as a writer have to do to that scenario?
I have to take most of it away, and threaten him with the loss of the rest.
Friends. Killed. Job. He’s threatened by the very job he loves. Life?
They’re trying to kill him.
The only choice he has is to put into play EVERYTHING he’s learned over his career as a fiction reader/analyst for the CIA. And the only recourse, once he realizes the threat is from the CIA itself, is to find the cause and confront it.
Oh, and stay alive.
What drives this?
Believe it or not, CONDOR himself drives the story. He rides a bicycle. He’s obsessive about knowing time, date, weather. He sits between everything happening in Manhattan, untouched and separate while in the midst of it.
You have enough there to drive the story. Don’t need to know that Condor never learned to swim, or that he knocked a tooth out falling from a tire swing as a boy.
Condor is an intellectual powerhouse, a maverick. At this point, I narrowed down the number of actors who can convincingly play him to one. Robert Redford, the very man who played him in the movie. I don’t have the book, but from what I see of the screenplay, sure – it was almost written for him.
Because he’s an intellectual, with near complete recall of a thousand books he’s read, he’s actually considered a menace by the very organization who hired him. And literally, he’s almost unstoppable.
So, how do I increase the jeopardy?
I construct a hitman who is as formidable. How? He’s got to be identical to Condor, but an assassin.
Tense yet? This is how I write. I have to think this out. Character drives plot. Plot is the framework I must construct, pick the right character, and find what motivates that character.
Who’s the single most intense character I’ve ever read? Easy one. Paul Atreides, the Muad’ Dib of Dune. INTENSE. Intense is not the word for it. A teenager who was never allowed to be a teenager… and grows to be a man under the most dangerous of situations. Ends up walking into the desert after his eyes burn out. And there were hints that if Frank Herbert had lived, the last book was going to bring Paul Atreides back.
Who’s the most likeable character I’ve ever read? I dunno. Han Solo? I tend to gravitate towards the more intense characters. One of my favorite of all times being Dirty Harry Callahan. The dime novels of the 80’s were horrid. TERRIBLE. Bad plots, bad writing, and horrific events in them. But the firs three movies were great.
Most annoying character? Anything Eddie Diezen could have played. But I really like the portrayal of the know it all kid from Polar Express.
Construct the right characters, find te motivations, construct your plot. And the right character drives your plot.