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  • September 17th, 2007 | 6:46 AM
Which came first, the plot or the character?

This is a variation on the old chicken and the egg story because of course we need both plot and character in order to tell a compelling story. But I wonder for other people, which comes first, the plot or the character?

I've always thought it was the character for me because I absolutely have to have the characters and a piece of the character's voice before I can begin a new book. But lately I've been doing a lot of pondering about various book projects and realize that it has often been the snippet of a plot that lead me in search of a character. That doesn't mean that I found the character right away. And in the case of one book I've been working on for years and years and YEARS I realize that I've got tons of plot and nothing but wooden characters.

What about you? What comes first, plot or character, and is it consistently the same or does it vary?

(Tags: )
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 25 comments — Leave comment )
September 17th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
Usually elements of the book start coming in bits and snatches of character AND plot, although the first thing, for me, is often setting actually. It's usually either setting or general concept, followed swiftly by bits of character and more specific plot.
September 18th, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)
Oh interesting that it is often setting for you. I've only had that happen once. I am often the bits and pieces type and I sometimes wish I was one of those consistently "this type" of creator.
September 18th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Well, I think it's because I do historical fantasy and my mind usually starts working as I'm reading some history book or another. Or maybe watching a movie. I got really inspired after Marie Antoinette, and one of my unfinished WIPs is a reworking of the plot of the silent film Metropolis, but in both cases it was the visuals that really swept me away. It's like my books first stem from the visual art part of my brain.
September 17th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
Usually, a snippet of plot appears first. But with my last two books, it was a vision of setting. Then a character raises his hand, "pick me! pick me!".
September 18th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
Again with the setting. I find that fascinating. When I am obsessed with a setting I hear no voices at all, no story waiting to be told.
(Deleted comment)
September 18th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
You are so sweet and made my day to read this. Thank you. I am trying to find my way back here but it is odd - I feel like I have no blog voice so I often think of posting and then my voice feels so blah that I just go away. Wish I could be one of those witty ones with the short, fun posts but even memes feel forced with me. Never knew how to play as a child and still not so good at it 49 years later.
(Deleted comment)
September 18th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm...
No but it gives me insight into how your mind works which makes me feel better about how MY mind works. :-) Thanks. I have story questions that drive me too.
September 17th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
Totally the character. My second manuscript has two almost-completely fleshed out characters but I have NO conflict and no direction for plot. It's so frustrating, but I love these characters so much I can't give up on them or try to force them into a story they aren't made for. I just have faith the right plot will come along; I just need the patience.
September 18th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
Don't you just wish sometimes we could go to the plot store and buy one, add a few seasonings and call it ours?

First I have no plot though once I finally find one (as in the recent project) I was all excited until I realized it was almost the same darn plot of the book I had just written. Comfort in the familiar I suppose.
September 17th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
The answer is "yes".

Basically, what usually happens is this:

Boyfriend: [says why something would be really neat in real life]
My brain: [flails a lot and goes "LETS DO THAT YES!" and runs around in semicreative circles]

or this:

Character: [starts explaining to me why, at 4am, I am going to rouse myself out of a sound sleep and start writing NOW]
Brain: [wakes me up turns on computer and gets a mug of tea before I actually realise I'm up and moving. And by the way, it's 4am.]

So, really, it all depends on what, in that moment, my brain latches on to. Actually, I've come to realise, my brain is a kleptomaniac.
September 18th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
"my brain is a kleptomaniac"

I LOVE this and I can so relate.
September 17th, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
Characters. There are always made-up people running around in my head. Not many things to do with them, though.
September 18th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. And wouldn't you think with all those people running around in our heads that someone would DO something once in a while? :-)
September 17th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
Plot & Char
You know, it's always so jumbled up. In my WIP, one character popped straight into my head, and she's stayed just about the same, but she isn't the MC. Also, I'm pretty sure some bits of plot popped into my brain along with her. The MC took a little longer to get formed.

However, it seems I am ALWAYS working on plot, even when I have the characters down. Sigh...why do I write mysteries? Oh, yeah, because I love them...
September 18th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Plot & Char
I love that you had a non-main character take up residence.

I feel like I am not working on the book if I don't have the MC but then, if I have the MC but not his voice I don't feel like I'm writing either. Lately the voices are so hard to find and I feel like I must have giant wads of cotten in my ears and just can't hear them. They can't be so boring as to have nothing to say but it feels that way.
September 17th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
Depends on the book. For "The Loneliest Magician" Jack was knocking on the computer screen from the inside for two books claiming he had a story too. So he got a whole book. For the WIP coming out next year it was the character too.

But sometimes it's the plot, a situation, a world I need to explore.

For short fiction I usually only write to invite only anthologies. Give me a theme or scenerio and I'm off and running, the characters have to catch up.

Go with the flow and see what comes out.
September 18th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
Themes - oh I love those. I was so good in school when they said to give 1,000 words on something. Sigh. Happy days.
September 18th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
I don't think short, so themed anthologies are the only way I come in under 100,000 words.
September 17th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
It varies, but I think I rely on the character coming to me first. :-) It's close, though... The characters and plot kind of come at me all at once. Like, "Hi, I'm Emma, and this is what I'm going to do!" Hee, hee!
September 18th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
You are lucky, you realize that right? :-)

I get, "Hi, I'm Max and I'm not going to tell you anything about myself until you prove yourself to me." Grrrr.
(Deleted comment)
September 18th, 2007 02:38 pm (UTC)
lucky for you too.

Wanna trade me a plot for a couple of great characters? :-)
September 18th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
it varies

but i want to say that i hope your writing is going incredibly well :))
September 18th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Meg. Just wading back to writing after getting settled in the new house. I wish I had an ounce of your energy! Hope you are well too!
(Deleted comment)
September 18th, 2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
You know, after reading all these responses and thinking about myself, I don't feel like anything comes with any regularity. No wonder I feel like I'm flailing around all the time. :-)

A built-in problem sounds interesting.
September 18th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
For me, it's usually a bit of plot that comes with a character. There's always at least one character involved, and something's happening to her or him. I never really think about some random event and then go looking for a character--I have to have a bit of both plot and character, or it's not a viable idea.

The frustrating thing is that the snippets I get are hardly ever the beginnings of stories. I have to figure out how far back to go to begin telling a story, so that I can get to the point of the story where that first flash of inspiration happens.
( 25 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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