If you watch singing shows . . . what is the one thing they ask the performer to do – to make it believable? It’s show emotion – in the tone and in the expression. That will make the audience ‘feel’ and believe what you are saying.
Well, the same thing holds true when writing. We must create strong and emotional characters to make a plot believable – in any genre. So how do we create emotion? One good way is to use frustration. It’s a driving force that gives the writer a wide-range of emotions to let the reader into the heart of our characters. For instance: disappointment, aggravation, exasperation, dissatisfaction, disturbance, irritation, and even vexation. You can create frustrated characters that will advance your story at a steady pace.
Plotting from frustrations will lead you to a different kind of book, as opposed to one where your character is in control and handles frustration well. Frustration will make your characters respond differently. They might strike out. Maybe jealousy becomes the frustration and he/she follows their x-partner – a behavior totally out-of-character.
How about the opposite reaction, normally he/she would have struck out and because of the effects of frustration, he/she runs . . . hides . . . feels it’s not worth living for? His/her plans might frustrated his/her family (dirty cop, taking kick-backs, in love with a possible killer) and provide the plot for the entire balance of the novel.
A good way to tap into a character feeling frustration is to go back to a time you felt completely frustrated. Maybe you couldn’t get someone else to see your point of view, you were following someone driving thirty in a sixty mile-per-hour zone, or you were dealing with a boyfriend or spouse that just won’t listen. Take a moment and relive as much as you can about how you felt, what you thought, and how your body reacted. Jot down the noticeable points.
I just put myself in the situation of my character . . . and think, ‘how would I react?’ Maybe a better question is, ‘how would I over-react?’ Make your characters complex . . . I mean, face it, aren’t we all? And keep in mind, how is your day going when you react or over-react. How much do you have on your plate? What is going on in your life that will make you ‘emotional’ and react uncharacteristically?
We want our characters to be realistic . . . but always keep in mind we can make them behave unnatural in an emotional state. Use that to your advantage and make your characters interesting; strong and weak, calm and ballistic, intelligent but also making unwise decisions, etc.
It is all achievable with emotion. Real or not . . . it must be believable.
For more insights into creating frustrated characters, check out Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress.