Great characters cause change. The drive their story forward through making decisions and doing things (also called agency). If your main character has great agency, you are more likely to produce a story where they cause change, both in themselves, but also in the world around them. Far more interesting than a character to whom things just happen and they react.
When thinking agency and driving the story forward, use MOANA as an example to answer these vital character questions.
1. What does your MC want? What massive thing must they do/overcome to get it? Your MC’s goals/wants/needs drive the plot, not the other way around. Use this answer to orient your story.
Moana wants to save her people. Then she wants to find Maui. Then restore the heart.
2. What needs to happen to allow the conflicts to be resolved?
She must see Te Ka for who she really is. But only by standing on the remains of Te Fiti can she see this. So she must get to the islands remains.
3. Who is stopping the MC from getting what they want? (the person causing the conflict)
Her Father. Then Maui. Then Te Ka.
4. How will your MC change in the novel? What flaw/issue must they overcome by changing?
She must leave her island, something no-one has done in generations. She must leave her family behind. She must overcome the reef. She must convince Maui. She must see Te Fiti in Te Ka.
5. What must happen to the MC in order for them to change in the novel?
Switching to Maui for this one. He’s a bigger change. He must overcome Te Ka and his fear of losing his hook and powers again. He must choose to sacrifice both in order to save Moana and restore the heart.
Hopefully these 5 questions have shown you how the answers can help build a plot for a whole story. But what about for an individual scene. Apply the same questions. Let’s take another scene from Moana. The one where she initially tries to leave the island.
1. She wants to leave the island.
2. She must overcome the waves.
3. The Ocean/her father.
4. She must overcome fear of her fathers wrath/disappointment.
5. Nearly drowning changes her mind about leaving the island.
She finally leaves later, but even in each scene, the same Q’s can be applied. I hope these are helpful, both for overall plot planning and also at a micro-level for scene-to-scene as well.
Apply these questions to your own work-in-progress and hopefully you’ll be forced to produce a main character who drives change in your story world through their agency.