Thursday, September 2, 2010

What comes first? The Characters or the Plot?

The age old question. Or at least the writer's version of it. What comes first? The characters or the plot?

I used to think either. After all, I've had several stories that either came to me first as a plot or as a character. Then I started to see a pattern. All my finished stories came from the plot ideas while the character ideas sorta float around after a few chapters before getting thrown on the shelf. Not to say that ALL of my plot ideas were carried out. Oh heck no, not even close. But so fair it's plot: 3 characters: 0. The numbers don't lie. (Despite what I say about my credit card bill)

Even my oh so wonderful myth idea I wrote about in just the last post is a prime example. These are the characters that hounded my dreams. (And since one of the MC's looks like Kevin Zegers, I didn't quite mind THAT so much) But when I actually sat down to write the beginning or even write the outline, I realized my mind was blank. I mean, I knew everything about my characters. How they looked, acted, their secrets, how they met each other, their history, etc. But I didn't know anything else. I didn't have a major plot for them. And it refused to come to me. Just the other night I was sitting there staring at graphics of the characters and yelling "What happens to you?!?"

They didn't actually answer or not I'd be pulled away in a strait jacket right now and having to learn to type with my toes.

Of course, I know that every story needs both great memorable characters and an exciting plot. But I'm talking about the very first thought you had about your story. Is it the character or the plot that came up first?

My answer would have to be the plot comes first. What about you guys? What comes first for you?


  1. I'm a plot-first writer too it seems. Not something I ever thought about! But it's true.

    Maybe I should focus on trying to build characters first sometime and see what happens!

  2. I want to say I'm a character-first writer, but let me clarify:

    I *really* think I'm a character/situation writer. See, I always start with a character--but that character's got some sort of plot-potential element that comes along with them.

    Case in point: Mattie can create from within her body. That just begs a plot!

    So I don't know. Like I say, it's always the character, but the plot's not too far behind!

  3. Hummm... tough question.

    I would say plot first for me, then characters. Although, it is a plot idea first, for it usually isn't completely flushed out. I find my characters far before my ever morphing plot.

  4. It depends on the story. Sometimes I "see" the characters first, then I come up with a plot. Other times, the plot takes over and I have to figure out who would be the best characters to put into the story.

    Great post!