All of us pretty much know what we want to happen in our books (unless you’re in the new ideas or first draft stage – if so, I recommend you check this post out on YATopia).
Either way though, this post is for you, and it revolves around what happens outside of your book. You have this wonderful world between your pages, and characters that have lives and wonderful, awful, and strange things happening to them. But what would it be like if the plot wasn’t there. What would your universe and characters be up to now?
It’s important to know what your entire character list and world would be doing if your plot hadn’t been invented. Imagine the characters have these whole lives planned for themselves – dreams, aspirations, history, friends, grievances, failures, successes, old relationships, traveling memories, school parties, jail time, whatever. They had a whole lot going on before the book ever happened. If you know this stuff, then you know who your characters are to the core. That means, as you write, you can weave in these details (not in an info dump though!). These will make your characters feel real, as the reader can imagine them as a real person.
Personally, I think this should apply to all of your characters (and I even include walk-on characters). Oh, and even your antagonist had a life before they decided to become your main character’s nemesis.
But it’s not just about character. It’s about place, community, your world. What would the people in the village/town/city be doing if the plot never touched upon them? What are they doing now when isn’t affected by the plot but is changing for other reasons, and then that thing affects the plot? Who are they as a people? How do they live? Why? What brings them closer or pushes them apart? Knowing this will help you form the foundations of how your world operates, as well as how it influences your characters.
Now, you don’t want to info dump this all into your story, as that’s just going to stop it dead, and we definitely don’t want that. Instead, you can weave it through. How? By showing how characters react to situations and other people. Showing the community spirit and similarities and differences. Maybe a character is disciplined and has hundreds of drawings on a wall, each one getting progressively better until it’s perfect. Maybe their dream is to get into art school. Maybe they want to do that because their community is so practical it drives them crazy.
Maybe the community is a witch-hunting tribe of angry zealots, and this has been going on for years, but it’s changing because someone outside of your books helped the witches and the witches helped them in return. This would change your community dynamic, which would impact the plot as it goes along. See?
There are a million mutations of what can happen outside of your book that can affect what happens inside of your book. It might seem a lot of work…but it can be a whole lot of fun. For example, when I see a cameo character walk onto the screen, and he does something small, just a brief action, I know it’s true to who he is. It has subtle authenticity that the reader might not recognize outright…but trust me, it’ll build up in their subconscious and your whole world will become real.
I hope you give it a try, and always remember…this is advice, not rules!
Good luck forming a universe we can all step into!