Although people talk a lot about plot and moving the story forward we mustn’t forget that we still need to build character. We need to show the reader what who our characters are and what motivates them. We can write a perfectly plotted novel but if readers don’t feel that our characters are people with thoughts, feelings and drives then the story still won’t work. This is true whether we consider our stories plot or character driven and so while we’re pushing the story forward we need to remember those character moments too.
What do we mean when we say character moments? This doesn’t mean it has to be things that don’t relate to the plot we can push the story forward while also showing character in the same scene. For instance, we may have a high action moment where our protagonist is going to rescue another character but perhaps there is something that makes them pause. An example would be Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes, he’ll still save the day but if there’s snakes involved he might hesitate. In doing this the writers show us that Indiana Jones has fears and is human and fallible. We don’t need long dialogue or description explaining that he is fallible we just need a scene that shows us his fear of snakes and, perhaps, a muttering of ‘I hate snakes’. Not only does this serve to show Jones’ flaws but it also keeps the plot moving forward without a digression. The pause is momentary because Indiana Jones will always chose to save the day, even if he’s grumpy about it.
Another example might be in the first Avengers film where our collection of mismatched heroes brought together by Nick Fury argue in Stark’s lab. Why are they arguing? Partly because they are mismatched heroes and partly, it is revealed later, they are being manipulated by the villain Loki. In this moment we not only see where they are different but the plot moves forward: Can they come together as a team? What does the mysterious staff have to do with what is happening? Will Banner lose control? Among other questions are raised by the scene drawing the audience further into the story.
These scenes don’t simply have to push the plot forward dramatically they can also serve as quiet moments between drama. Consider the amount of times in action movies there have been big dramatic scenes followed by quiet moments in which the heroes regroup and reconsider their positions. There’s the old cliché from Westerns where there’s a gathering at the ranch or the sheriff’s office to discuss what is happening in town and what to do about it. While these also move the story forward they slow it down as well, keeping the plot moving does not necessarily mean running at breakneck speed towards the end. But that’s another article.
So, simply because we are trying to move the plot forward doesn’t mean we can’t give our characters space to breath and show us who they are whether it’s a brief moment or a lengthy scene.