The Characters or The Plot

I have been thinking about my writing process a lot recently, and have come to realize that quite often, I am initially plot-driven. This has become clear to me as I wrestle with a story I thought up about a month ago. The main, and very spooky / cool aspect of it came to me, and then the characters started to form. They are still very fuzzy. And I won’t write the story until I have a solid handle on them. A really great three book series came to me a couple of years ago, and I can’t wait to write it, but I need more from the characters before I do. The plot rocks, but that isn’t enough.

I know plot-driven isn’t always considered a good thing, although the end result is what I think makes or breaks any work, not the route taken to get to it. But I do believe that no matter how great the plot, unless you have a reason to care why character X is in trouble, chased down by werewolves or taken off with the fairies, the best plot in the world will fall flat.

I know some writers start with a character and built a story around them, I think I work more the other way, I have the bare bones of a story, or just one very clear, very powerful image from a story, and work out what sort of characters belong to that world.

How do you work?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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22 Responses to The Characters or The Plot

  1. Kath Calarco says:

    Usually my characters come first, and the plot unfolds. Yet, I won’t discount plot first, characters second. Ideas come in many forms – the “whats”. For instance, I can see a character and ask, “What’s his/her deal?” or see a situation and ask, “What if this/that happens?”

    I firmly believe that writers shouldn’t limit their inroads, as in saying, “I ALWAYS go plot first,” and vice-versa. In other words, do what works while keeping it fresh.

  2. Joe Barone says:

    I go at it just the opposite. The characters come to me almost full blown. It’s the plot if struggle with. Isn’t it fun? We are all different.

  3. Edie Ramer says:

    I usually get a premise first, but it makes me laugh to think I’m plot-driven. I love great characters and I know mine end up driving the plot. If the plot doesn’t work for them, it’s not going to work for the readers.

  4. LaDonna says:

    Ditto what Edie said about, “characters driving the plot!” The characters come to me first, and then I notice the surroundings and it sorta starts the wheels rolling and makes me want to take a closer look. In Butterfly, I saw Fey and Colin huddled beneath the willow, and wanted to know their story.

  5. I know plot-driven isn’t always considered a good thing, although the end result is what I think makes or breaks any work, not the route taken to get to it

    One of the most damaging outcomes of writing advice is the notion that one way is better or right. It’s not. The only thing that matters is what process works for you. Really. That’s all. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  6. Characters!

    I have casts of characters marching around in my head just waiting for me to contribute some sort of plot they can jump into.

  7. Hard to say for me. Sometimes it’s a plot idea, sometimes a character, sometimes just hearing about something on the news.

    To me almost it’s almost like the chicken or the egg argument. I’m never quite sure which comes first. πŸ™‚

  8. Liz Kreger says:

    Mostly plot. Gotta have that germ of an idea before I can even begin thinking about characters. The characters tend to grow from my plot … so I guess you can say I’m a little of both. I rarely know where my plot is going from one chapter to the next, only that I have to work it out in my head before continuing.

    Great subject, Michelle and I love the lion hanging in the tree.

  9. Hm…for me it depends. If it’s the first book in a series, I’d say plot or premise comes first, characters come next. If it’s a subsequent book in a series, the characters definitely come first and I work a plot around them.

    That said…which is easier for me? Plot, then characters, by far. It’s much harder to build a plot around already existing characters (at least it is for me).

  10. Cynthia Eden says:

    I’m generally plot-driven. The characters come after I get the basic plot idea.

  11. Michelle says:

    Kath, that’s it exactly. And the wonderful thing about being a writer is we are creative and open enough to usually take whatever the muse hands us and run with it.

  12. Michelle says:

    It sure is, Joe! I have never had a character arrive fully formed πŸ™‚ – the whole story laid out in my head, though, that I have had.

  13. Michelle says:

    I know, Edie. I never thought of myself as plot-driven, but that’s probably because I don’t really study my own process all that much. It just happens. I want to write a bit about this idea I’ve had, and I realized the one character was so one-dimensional, I needed to get more details on him before I could continue.

  14. Michelle says:

    LaD, I think when I have enough on my characters to put them in the situation I have thought of, and I’ve got to know them a bit, then I take them into account with every move my plot makes after that. To thine characters be true πŸ™‚ .

  15. Michelle says:

    Carolyn, I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. I wonder how many writers have given up or felt depressed because their way didn’t fit what someone they thought knew more than they did’s way. ‘Take what works’ is a great motto to live by in writing.

  16. Michelle says:

    LOL, Lainey. Well, I hope you find enough plots for them all πŸ™‚ .

  17. Michelle says:

    Jenna, as long as it works for you, you don’t need the answer πŸ™‚ .

  18. Michelle says:

    Thanks, Liz. That’s a cat you probably wouldn’t want to take home with you πŸ™‚ .

  19. Michelle says:

    I’m the same, Elisabeth. I had a character in mind for years before I found a story for her, and even then, she changed quite a bit once the story got going. Having a story in mind helps me think up the characters that need to go in that story.

  20. Michelle says:

    Another plot-first club member. I’m in good company, here, Cynthia.

  21. D.A. Riser says:

    I confess to being a plot first writer. It’s actually funny b/c I blogged on this very topic today! There’s plot and then there’s conflict, but a book doesn’t go very far without characters.

  22. Michelle says:

    D.A., I’ll head over to your blog now πŸ™‚ . And I agree. It’s nice to have the plot sorted, but you have to have great characters, too.

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