Monday, May 17, 2010

What Comes First?

The characters or the plot?

It's been said the characters drive the plot. How your characters react to what's going on determines where the plot goes. That makes sense to me. Consider this scenario:

Kelly is walking through the woods. She hears footsteps behind her. How does she react?

If she breaks into a run, what happens?
If she turns around to face whoever is following her, what happens?
If she ducks behind a tree and leaps out onto who is following her, what happens?

Do you see how Kelly's reaction determines where the plot goes?

How about before you write a single word? What comes to you, the plot or the characters? Does it make a difference for the story? When I got the idea for Fairyeater, the villian (yes, the Fairyeater) came to me first. Then I had to figure out why she eats fairies and what happens when she eats them. How is the world affected?

After that, I had to come up with a hero who would stop her somehow. Then I had to answer the questions, why does she need to stop the Fairyeater? What would happen if she didn't? What is the ticking time bomb - meaning, if the Fairyeater isn't stopped by a certain time, what will happen?

So, let's talk about how the characters drive the plot this week. Next week, we'll look closer at character development.


  1. Definitely, the characters came first for me. Because before this book, I couldn't come up with a plot to save my life. Now, however, I think I can be a little more plot-oriented in the future.

  2. Here's a great quote:

    It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.
    - William Faulkner

    I'm thinking that even if we come up with a plot, the characters will change it if we let them. So, what do we do? Stick with the plan or let the characters make it what they will? Hmmmmmmm ....

  3. I agree with that quote! :0) A lot of the time my characters pop into my head (or I see a person who could fit into my world & I begin to wonder about them). One of my favorite characters ever showed up in my head for no reason, just a picture of an elf--with sad, haunted eyes. So naturally I had to figure out why he was sad and haunted.
    Oh yes, my characters change my plots. As I was working on my third novel, my mc's uncle threw me a curveball that changed the plot a bit (not a great thing when working under deadline, even a self-imposed one). I let him change the plot b/c it felt right for that character.

  4. I began with the world and the overarching meta-plot, the history in outline of the world. That was followed by an interest in particular characters and how they fit into that history, and *their* stories will become "my story." I hope.

  5. The characters almost always come first for me. They just pop into my heads, and I usually see them in a scene that will happen later on in the book :) It's very difficult to form a plot, for me. I mean, they each have their problems, sure. They're each all to willing to show them, sure. But as for a real plot?


    But hey, if I compromise with my characters it usually gets me SOMEWHERE. Take advantage of their knowledge :)

  6. I like how Danielle put it: I compromise with my characters. That's a great way to handle it!