Several of you have asked me to talk about how to use character to drive the scene action. This is a big topic, but we'll aim for a nutshell version today.
When we analyze character in a finished piece of writing, we look at two primary types of cues. First, we look at the character's behavior. Action follows interest, as the saying goes, so looking at what a character *does* will indicate what that character finds important. Someone might say, "I really want to go to the movies today," but if they don't get off the couch and out the door, we can conclude that the movies were less important or compelling than whatever that character did instead.
Second, we look at how other characters react to our main character. For example:
Theresa: I really want to go to the movies today.
Alicia: You always say that, and then you just sit there at your desk all day instead.
You see, Alicia knows that Theresa has a pattern of conduct, and Alicia has already made some conclusions about Theresa based on that pattern. When Alicia expresses that conclusion in the text, Alicia cues the reader about the true state of Theresa's character. (Maybe I should have had Alicia say: Theresa, you can't possibly go to the movies today. Events of the past month have put you weeks behind schedule, Quit dreaming and get on the stick, girl. *cough*)
So the reader takes these two types of cues in the text and cobbles together a view of Theresa's character from that. It doesn't matter what Theresa says (I really want to go to the movies) if what she does and the character reactions contradict that dialogue. (It might lend some small-scale tension to the narrative, but that's a topic for another post.)
The way to plot from character is to work this dynamic in reverse. You start with a character trait -- Theresa's ambition, or Theresa's recent inability to manage chaos -- and you find a way to illustrate it through the action.
Easier said than done, perhaps, but it can be done. Start by listing your character's dominant traits: honesty, seriousness, pride, creativity, wittiness, whatever. Take a moment to contemplate whether the trait makes your character more or less heroic, more or less villainous. Now brainstorm events which can be used to demonstrate the trait. For now, don't worry about whether these events fit neatly into an overall plot. That's not the issue at the moment. Just think about how that trait will translate into action, and how other characters or circumstances can either magnify or diminish the trait.
Generally, we want to find ways to strengthen heroic traits in heroic characters. We want to challenge and eliminate non-heroic traits in heroic characters. And in non-heroic characters, we want to do the opposite: defeat any tendency to heroism and enhance any villainous trait.
However, that's not always the case. Sometimes you might want to take an heroic trait and exaggerate it until it becomes a liability. Or you might want to test assumptions about what is or is not heroic. Get creative here, and treat it as a creativity exercise.
When you're done, you'll have a list of ten or twenty or a hundred ways in which a trait can be translated into action, and you'll have some idea of how that action could have consequences for the character. If you have those two ingredients -- action and consequences -- you have the makings of a real scene. Any idea that doesn't show both action and consequences is probably too underdeveloped to be workable within the context of a story.
But with those two ingredients in the mix, you can decide whether that scene might work in your overall plot. Or perhaps, if you really want the character to drive things, you might build the plot around the scene. There's a certain amount of flexibility in character-driven stories that you don't have in plot-driven stories, so flex it and see what happens!