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Characters or Plot: Which comes first?
Jessica Crupe
Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012 11:09 AM
Joined: 3/21/2012
Posts: 33


What comes first: the story or the characters? I do both. For Tenko And The Guardian's, I made Tenko up as my guardian angel. Kisa became me, and a story was created. On another one of my stories, I had a plot, but I needed characters.Which do you do?
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:03 PM
Why does it matter? It's the result that matters.

But that being said, as personal opinion I would say the situation comes first, and the character's characteristics are whatever it takes to make them interesting, while at the same time causing them to react as needed.

As for the character you really only need two words, a noun for their profession and an adjective to describe their major characteristic, because that sets their outlook. An intense fireman looks  and acts differently from an insecure bookkeeper in all situations.


Alexandria Brim
Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 2:39 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353


I guess it all depends on you. Every writer is different. I can only speak about myself.

Most of my stories start as little plots I tell myself at night to try and fight the insomnia. Not really worried about characterization at that point--if I do that, my mind starts to get busier and then I'll never fall asleep. But sometimes, the characters start talking to me. And that's when I start putting the story to paper.
Timothy Maguire
Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:41 AM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


Personally, I find it's a little of the chicken and the egg. Plots and characters migrate into each other until I've got something coherent or I'm lobbing character ideas at a setting until I get a plot.

Jessica Crupe
Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 2:24 PM
Joined: 3/21/2012
Posts: 33


Alexandria, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who falls asleep but making up stories. Sometimes, I will work on a scene I have coming up in my story while I fall asleep.
Alexandria Brim
Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 4:36 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353


@Jessica: No, you're not alone. I try not to work on my scenes before I fall asleep. Mostly because if I come up with wording I like, I want to write it down. And when I do that, I wake myself back up.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 3:56 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I usually try to come up with both together. A character should fit the plot, and vice versa. Sometimes I have this story I want to write, and then I come up with a character. Then the plot and character develop together as I write. That is what happened for my current WIP short "One Pin Short of Ten."
Theasion
Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:55 PM
Joined: 11/24/2011
Posts: 4


Really I think they should both be done together. If however, for whatever reason one must be neglected for the sake of the other, then characterisation I think comes out as the more major thing to be focused on.

Even the best plotted book in the world can be awful it its character are poor, boring and at best unrelatable at worst unlikeable or uninteresting. However even a poorly plotted story can be redeemed by brilliant, emotive, inviting and interesting characters.

As people we can't relate to the abstract concept of a plot or the simplness of a hill or brook in terms of setting. A character, no matter what their attributes are, is what we invest emotionally in when reading a story. The plot is what impacts on the character, and through the character we feel the effect of the plot.

In a similar line of thought to this, in my opinion, characters should be organic creatures. They should evolve and change as you write them, because as you write them you may discover things about your characters you yourself never even envisioned at the start. Therefore the plot should be malleable enough to accommodate this. If a particular scene of the plot calls for the character to act in a way their character simply would not have, then don't do it! Change it, present a challenge to the characters ideas or personality, create conflict.

To try and make the point. Think of a book you love, and a book you hate. Is it the plot you truly love? Or the characters? To use an example, the much loathed Twilight saga, I'll offer no opinion on it, but when people say they 'hate' the story, who do they really hate? The plot? Or Bella Swan and the way she reacts to the plot?

Or another example, let’s use, say, Star Wars, since I imagine most of us will have seen it. Is the Galactic Civil War really what you invest in? Or is it Darth Vadar, Han Solo and a small beepy robot who first jump to mind.

Of course I'm no authority on all of this, but in my opinion when it comes down to it characterisation should take priority. If of course, you can't just do both.


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 7:39 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Theasion does have a point. I'll use my book as an example. While I am not lacking for plot, as my reviewers have said, they react most to the characterization. I have one character I've created that has remained a favorite amongst readers even when she doesn't develop for some time. I don't know how I managed that phenomena, but she's definitely her own monster now. Half unbridled Id, half dogma following priest, Tao has become a force that I don't think I could recreate. Characters can be the most powerful aspects of your story. So work on developing them well, even if your plot may not be the greatest.
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012 3:33 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438


Theasion, Good point. I don't think that readers get as worked up/emotional about the plot of a book as they get about the characters.

LeeAnna, "Half unbridled Id, half dogma following priest, Tao has become a force that I don't think I could recreate." - That sounds awesome.

Personally, it depends on the genre in question. If I'm reading a thriller, I don't care about the main character as much; if the story is not suspenseful enough, I'll stop reading. On the other hand, when it comes to the Romance genre or a book of literary fiction, character is what matters the most. If I can't empathize with the characters or simply care about them, then it's ruined for me. I don't know why, but when it comes to SF/F, I feel like there needs to be more of a balance between the two. Of course, preferably, characterization AND plot will be equally enthralling.





Herb Mallette
Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012 4:21 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188


For the last five books I've written, setting has preceded both character and plot. For four of the five, a general grand-scale plot came before the characters. For the fifth, the characters came first. By the time I start outlining, though, plot and characters become inextricable, and there's no way to disentangle the two.

That's just sequence, though. In terms of importance to me as a writer, the characters are overwhelmingly dominant. I can't maintain interest in a project if I don't really care about my characters, whereas I'll keep outlining and re-outlining plot until I get it right, as long as the characters have their hooks in me.


Robert C Roman
Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012 8:13 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


For me it depends on the story, and for all of them some characters come after the plot.

Honestly? An idiot plot (one where the entire thing would fall apart if any of the characters stopped being an idiot) will turn me off fast, likely just as fast as unlikable characters. If I really like the plot, I might put up with flat characters. If the characters are engaging, I'll put up with a mailed in plot.

But I won't really enjoy either one as much as I will a good plot with engaging characters. Whichever comes first, you need to work on both.

But... just so you know, of what I've got pubbed or up on BookCountry right now... Fae Eye for the Golem Guy - Plot. What Not to Fear - Plot (mostly - it's a sequel). The Strange Fate of Capricious Jones - Cap Jones herself. A Christmas Evening Vigil - Plot (sort of, it's a sequel too). XLI - Tenly. Cat's Paw - Asoofit. Road Mage - Both at once. Drag.Race - Plot (again, sort of - sequel).


Nicki Hill
Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2012 4:59 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


For me, it's almost always characters.  I can have all kinds of ideas for settings, conflicts - all of the environments can be rolling around in there, but they mean nothing until a couple of characters come to life and interact with those environments.  The WIP I've got up now, Strain, is a sort of Frankenstein's monster of previous plot/setting/situation ideas (some of which have been floating around for literally years), none of which popped for me until Trev and Noah finally showed up.  Once I had those guys clamoring for attention in my head, it was just a matter of plugging them into those prefabbed settings and letting them bring their story to life. 

Characters (especially through dialogue) are truly my favorite part of writing (and reading).  If they don't engage me, it just doesn't matter to me what kind of situations they're in - the plot will never work.  It's usually through the characters and their personalities that I learn what the major conflict will be, and from there, the plot is born.

Mimi Speike
Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012 3:19 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014



Me, I get hold of an idea. I live with it a while. The wheels start turning. Before long, I've developed a concept, a vehicle. (Notice that I don't say a plot,)

By that time, I've got a couple of passengers on board, a main character and a few sidekicks. We're ready to roll, ready to explore the terrain ahead, the next paragraph, the next page, the next chapter. I don't agonize over any of this. I step on the gas and hope for the best. 

Here's my answer: The rudiments of both character and plot are embedded in my concept, a foundational edit of reality, which includes more backstory than anyone but me cares to contemplate.

It's a package; there's no this or that about it. The question What comes first? is very strange to me.


DJS
Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:53 PM
Without strong characters to carry it off, plot doesn't mean very much.Georges Simenon, one of the most skillful and literate writers of detective fiction, did not outline plots; rather; he would have a couple of people meet, say at a train station, form some sort of relationship, meet other people, initiate some sort of intrigue and have these interactions ramify into a well-knit plot. People playing off each other construct the plot. The stronger the characters, the better the plot. If the situation is reversed, by inventing an elaborate plot into which characters are stuffed, the writing will seem stilted as it strives to cope with this ill-fitting situation. We've all witnessed strong characters in our lives, those who somehow manage to keep the pot boiling, an over-heated scenario that ultimately spawns a series of intriguing plots and sub-plots.
DJS
Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:54 PM
Without strong characters to carry it off, plot doesn't mean very much.Georges Simenon, one of the most skillful and literate writers of detective fiction, did not outline plots; rather; he would have a couple of people meet, say at a train station, form some sort of relationship, meet other people, initiate some sort of intrigue and have these interactions ramify into a well-knit plot. People playing off each other construct the plot. The stronger the characters, the better the plot. If the situation is reversed, by inventing an elaborate plot into which characters are stuffed, the writing will seem stilted as it strives to cope with this ill-fitting situation. We've all witnessed strong characters in our lives, those who somehow manage to keep the pot boiling, an over-heated scenario that ultimately spawns a series of intriguing plots and sub-plots.
Ian Nathaniel Cohen
Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 3:21 PM

If you're talking about as a starting point when you first start putting the pieces together, for me, it varies from project to project.  Sometimes I'll have the characters first, and I try and build a story around them.  Other times, I'll have a vague idea for a plot, and I come up with characters that best suit it.  I go with whatever comes naturally for any given book I'm working on.

 

If you mean emphasizing characterization or plot as I go, or in the final work, I place equal emphasis on getting both right.

--edited by Ian Nathaniel Cohen on 12/20/2013, 3:23 PM--


Steve Yudewitz
Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013 11:28 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 24


 

For me, the ideas may germinate from plot, characters or setting, but nothing really happens until I discover who my main characters are.  With Deadman's Float, the inital sparks were related to setting, themes, and atmosphere. However, nothing started rolling until I started creating character sketches and developing the backstory behind the tension between Dave Grodnow and Linda Setir, the reason why Bill Hammerstein can fearlessly put them in their place, the secret to why Martha has inside information on what makes Dave and Linda tick, and why all of them are so motivated to find Art Donnelly's killer.

 

From there, I was able to understand each of their strengths, flaws, blind spots, and the things that affect their moods. These details don't just flesh out the relationships and conflict, they also drive the plot. If Dave was more like his boss Evan Mason, the plot would be less about solving a murder and more about him finding a way to use the tragedy to his advantage. 

 

I think it doesn't matter how intricate and innovative my plot is. If I can't get readers to connect on some level with the people in my stories, they won't get past chapter two.

 

However, I'm a big believer that people who believe there is only one way to write a story are wrong. There might be only one best way for them to write, but it doesn't mean you have to fit their mold. If you work best by plotting first and finding characters that fit, by all means, work your magic.

 

Happy writing!


J.M. Berenswick
Posted: Friday, January 31, 2014 5:59 PM
The idea always comes first for me, but I try to get an understanding of the characters before I start developing the plot. They'll often end up influencing the setting or events.
Kingstonmike
Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014 12:26 PM
Joined: 8/14/2014
Posts: 5


It depends on the story...For one story, I was out on my bike, took a new route to work one day, saw a really funky old house and decided to populate it with characters. For another, I thought of an ex-Spec Forces operator and what it would be like to live in civilian life after that kind of hi-octane life.

 

 The situation dictates the form.


leilani
Posted: Friday, September 26, 2014 11:25 PM
Joined: 9/26/2013
Posts: 8


I tend to write subject-based fiction, i.e., my stories are built around real events, locations or beliefs/religions, etc. That doesn't mean they're strictly factual, nor that my characters take a back seat to the idea. However, the concept forms the framework and I build my world and to fit within that framework. I try to take on other perspectives as I go. What would this character think about the concept? Would he/she approve or be horrified by it? What justification would explain their views on it?

 

Yes, it tends to be kind of technical writing in that way, but coming from a news background, I can't help taking a technical approach. Sometimes I'll write a general outline of where I'm going, other times I wing it completely. Either way, I invariably circle back because I've forgotten something integral (which is the case with my current WIP, as I realized tonight. Ugh.) It's a pain in the neck from a writing perspective but gives me the chance to add more texture and nuance to the story as I go along.


 

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