Plotting novels the Ren & Stimpy way

It may seem unusual to source Ren & Stimpy for novel-crafting inspiration, but the iconic cartoon duo's creator John Kricfalusi (aka John K) provides some sound advice about writing for character - advice which applies as aptly to novel writing as it does to cartoons:

"The easiest (and I think most successful) stories I’ve written or worked on were the ones that directly evolved out of the characters’ personalities, rather than just taking the characters and plugging them into a plot or situation."

With cartoons though, "story" carries far less weight than with novels - John K is quick to point out that cartoons "have the dumbest stories of any medium ever", which makes strong characters - and their reactions to the dumb stuff happening around them - all the more important to carry the episode along.

But strong characters in narrative fiction are no less important. Any plot point, any decision a character makes, needs to fit in with that character's clearly defined, larger-than-life, memorable, almost cartoon-like personality.* A timid character won't jump onto a stage and start shouting at the audience (unless it's a pivotal "break-out-of-their-shell" moment in the book).

The more colourful a character is, the easier it is to write for that character: the events in the story will naturally unfold, probably going in a totally different direction to your original story plan. Chances are that the new, unexpected direction will be far more vibrant and interesting, too.

In short: Strong characters drive plots...

* Inevitable caveat: Cartoon-like characters can carry a novel pretty far, but naturally they also need the depth and background for it all to work - just why is the Grinch so mean?? What happened to him to make him so bitter?

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