My friend @gooddirt shared an interesting article today discussing the age-old writer’s dilemma: which comes first when you’re writing, characters or plot? The post also shares five great tips on starting with either, and so I highly recommend giving it a read.
But it got me wondering — do you think writers of certain genres are more prone to one than the other? Do you think thriller authors start mostly with plot, and romance authors build up on characters? Or would you say that’s a stereotype?
And yet — when you think of thrillers, how often do you think of the characters? How often do you even REMEMBER who the characters are, from book to book? And in a romance novel, where the plot is right there in the genre description, if you don’t start from characters, aren’t you just writing the same story over and over again?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! I look forward to a lively discussion in the comments.
4 thoughts on “Which Comes First?”
I read the intresting article and were surprised to read the comments. Almost every comment put characters first. I guess that I'm in the minority putting plot, at least the basic storyline, ahead of the characters. If I create characters and then can't find an interesting storyline, the book will go nowhere. But if there is a good storyline, even with so so characters, there is still a book. But I feel that the comments after mine will tell a different story.
If you can respond, please elaborate on your last blog where you said that contemporary YA fiction without a hook is very difficult to place now. Is the new trend for YA fiction is futiristic?
I think this is so subjective, but character-driven stories are always my favorites. Of course you need plot in any story, but if the characters aren't memorable and interesting, I'll end up putting the book down and never picking it back up again.
What would make me want to return to the story? Even if I stop on a crazy cliff-hanger, if I'm not in love with those characters, I could care less what happens to them.
This is probably going to sound like a cop-out, but I tend to develop both the plot and the characters at the same time. New ideas typically come to me in the form of inciting incidents, but if I can't shape those conflicts pretty quickly around some characters I want to spend months and years with, then the ideas fall by the wayside.
Stories grow out of characters, and characters grow out of stories. If your characters don't make a unique contribution to the story – if the story doesn't belong to them – then what's the point of telling the story from those characters' perspective? It's really hard to build one without the other, I think.
For me it's always the characters first. They kind of come to me, almost fully developed, and then I start thinking 'I wonder how X would react if this happened'. And that's pretty much how I start writing a book….