Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article I found interesting. It raised a question I believe plagues many writers (I know it plagues me from time to time). Should you start with plot or character(s)? That question got me thinking, which, with my mind, can be an interesting undertaking. I started thinking about my history as a writer and how my stories have come about.
I like to think that my stories, in the long run, are character driven. After all, a good story needs, at the very least, a realistic main character, or main characters. A realistic main character has strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures, moments of heroism and moments of cowardice. However, all stories involve the main character being thrown into a situation they were never expecting to be thrown into; a situation where they suddenly feel small, unsure, strange… somewhere they feel uncomfortable. This situation is your plot. But what do you come up with first? The character(s) or the plot?
For me, it depends on what I’m writing. I have a Twilight fanfic that, as silly and bad as it sounds, started out with me wanting to write my all-time guilty writing pleasure: a self-insert story. I wanted to insert myself into the world of Twilight. (I have a soft spot for the story of it, regardless of how badly it is written.) Soon after, I figured out a plot and the story gained some credentials. I’m actually very proud of myself for un-Mary Sueing myself. But what can I say? I love putting myself into my fanfiction; it’s just downright fun. Plus, one (debated) rule of writing is: write what you know. But, my stories have also been born from plot ideas. Especially my original fiction. My Pangaea Trilogy is the biggest one that came from a simple plot idea. That idea? “I should write a story involving Unicorns”. I am not kidding. As I started thinking about how to get said Unicorns into said story, it began to snowball until it became what it has become. A Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Arthurian Legend inspired epic about four friends who are summoned to another world called Pangaea, where they, ultimately, have to stop a war from breaking out in order to save not only Pangaea, but the imaginations of Earth’s children. Pangaea is a world inhabited by Faeries, Elves, Pixies, Trolls, Mer-People, and Men. The fauna includes Unicorns, Dragons, Gryphons as well as very familiar Earth creatures such as falcons, deer, foxes and wolves. As you can guess, the Unicorn idea went from being the plot, to just a small part of it.
While the plot planning was still in its infancy, I created my characters… myself and two of my close friends. Not long after Pangaea’s beginning, I changed my name, and as I started writing, and got further and further into the story, I realized I needed a fourth character. So, the one male character got split into two; his personality went to one guy and his story went to the other. When I created the fourth character, I spent a week renaming my characters and named them based on meaning. Once that happened, everything seemed to move a bit more smoothly, the character based upon me didn’t seem as based on me as it she was.
On occasion, I’ve even been known to build a character around a name or name meaning that I really like. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love names in general. But, back to the plot versus character(s) question.
I guess for me, a plot, or at least a plot idea, comes before my characters do. That’s not to say I haven’t created a character and then thought of a situation to thrust them into, but I have found that to be a much harder avenue to traverse. For me, strong characters are just as important as a good story. I love getting to know the characters I read and write. It is for this reason, that once I have established my plot and my characters, I hand the reins over to my characters and let them tell the story. They are the ones who know more about what is going on than I do.
Now, I’m going to throw this question out to my fellow writers. What do you start your stories out with; plot or your character(s)?