Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

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Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Down the well » 05 Sep 2010, 13:01

For my current WIP the characters came first. Once I had an idea of who they were as people I devised a basic plot to fit around their relationship. From that point on it was their choices and their behavior that determined the outcome and most of the subplot stuff. The story isn't lacking in plot, but the action is secondary to the relationship.

But I know some people prefer to come up with the plot first. The action drives the story. The characters are there to serve the plot. Doesn't mean they aren't interesting or well-developed, but their purpose is to see the action through to the big climactic moment.

So I'm curious. Which comes first for you, plot or character?
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby polymath » 05 Sep 2010, 14:56

I'm a SPICE writer, setting, plot, idea, character, and event. I start with a complication. With a complication the rest falls into place, otherwise the complication needs further development.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby jkmcdonnell » 05 Sep 2010, 15:57

It's plot for me, always. I feel character is one of my weakest areas, but I'm working on it.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby stephmcgee » 05 Sep 2010, 16:14

For me it varies project to project. Sometimes they'll come simultaneously.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby amyashley » 05 Sep 2010, 17:48

Plot undoubtedly. I don't write anything, even an outline, until I have a character to fit into it though. I do most of my outline mentally anyway, with lots of notes to keep me on track.

Funny, setting is probably the last thing I consider, and subplots I let occur on the fly. I find a lot of interesting twists happen that way.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby cheekychook » 05 Sep 2010, 18:59

My ideas always occur simultaneously---the plot is always something that is happening to very specific people who react the way they do because of who they are. I guess it's because the stories are always pretty character driven, but they have a plot as well. This was an interesting question, because I'd never really thought about it before---my ideas have always come to me as a combination (there's a person like this and a person like that and these things happen to them). It's always fascinating to me to hear people say that they have a great character and they're working on coming up with a plot for him. I'd blame it on my social work training (which is to examine "person in place"---as in look at the person, and their place [surroundings,lifestyle, family, etc.] and based on that info help them to identify problems and set attainable goals), but honestly I've been getting my story ideas as character/plot combos since my first story (age 6, way before grad school).
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby HillaryJ » 05 Sep 2010, 19:17

I always start with a scene, this character in that place, withsomething happening, something which has just happened or something which is about to happen. I give them a corner of my brain in which to grow or fizzle out. If they're still there a few days later, and if they've gone from watercolor pale to oil bright, then I'm on to something.

If their story is short, they just have to do this one thing, I'll try to give them a short story.

If they keep going and growing and meeting people and having to do things, I'll try to work out a novel-length outline for them. If that looks promising, I'll stick it in the post-WIP queue, because there's always a WIP.

If I still like them, but they just have that original place and anticipation of something significant their way coming, I'll sketch out a scene and give them their very own Word doc in which they can percolate. Generally I forget all about these and surprise the hell out of myself when I review the docs in my Ideas and Starts folder. Like the one about the little French girl living in a buried coffin, reading a Popular Mechanics. Still don't know what to do with her, and I'm sure she's getting bored.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Heather B » 05 Sep 2010, 23:59

For me it's always character. They appear fully-formed in my head and generally from the type of character/paranormal creature they are, my story evolves.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Down the well » 06 Sep 2010, 06:58

This...

cheekychook wrote:It's always fascinating to me to hear people say that they have a great character and they're working on coming up with a plot for him. I'd blame it on my social work training (which is to examine "person in place"---as in look at the person, and their place [surroundings,lifestyle, family, etc.] and based on that info help them to identify problems and set attainable goals),


and this...

HillaryJ wrote:I always start with a scene, this character in that place, withsomething happening, something which has just happened or something which is about to happen.


and this...

Heather B wrote:They appear fully-formed in my head and generally from the type of character/paranormal creature they are, my story evolves.


make sense to me.


When I start a new project I work on character, plot, and then setting (CoPS polymath?). Like Hillary said, I see the characters, see them in a situation, and then depending on how they react to the inciting event that's the direction the plot goes. Of course, if I don't like their first choice of action I might wait until they do something else I like better. *grin*

Also, I've had secondary characters come out of the mist while I'm writing, and I'll try and find a way to work them in to the story if I find them interesting enough. I imagine for plot-first types that would be sacrilege. Anyway, it's always interesting to learn how other people work.



HillaryJ wrote: Like the one about the little French girl living in a buried coffin, reading a Popular Mechanics. Still don't know what to do with her, and I'm sure she's getting bored.


And, um, let the girl out of the coffin HIllary. Or at least give her something more interesting to read - maybe a Harry Potter book or something?
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Claudie » 06 Sep 2010, 09:02

So far, I've always come up with characters first. I have these people that start talking to me, and I take the time to figure out who they are before I do anything else. Then I try to see what in the world around them made them like this (I write fantasy, for the record).

So characters, then setting. When does plot come in? I ask myself "What do these guys want? What will they do to get it? How does one's goals conflict with another's?"

And plot is born. If the characters aren't driving the plot, I know something is wrong with my novel. I'm never able to finish them when it happens.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Quill » 06 Sep 2010, 09:32

For me setting comes first, a place, milieu, or time period that I want to write about, that I know I could do justice to, that I think I could stick with through the thick and thin of many drafts, that I believe I could add something to the world about. From that comes a meditation on plot and character, from which sparks an inciting incident, conundrum, crux, and denouement. But first I must know that I am writing a love letter to a place, a time, and/or an event to which I have an emotional attachment.

Yesterday I hatched a plot for a setting and vague idea of main characters and climax which had been percolating for many months. It all fell into place, anchored around my setting.

I usually read the same way. If a setting is of interest I'll likely pick up the book. If it is not of interest, I probably won't jump in, it doesn't matter how gripping the story is or how compelling the characters. Setting is as fundamental as genre to me.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby AMSchilling » 06 Sep 2010, 09:55

Characters, definitely.

My strength is well-rounded characters, and by extension, dialog and inter-relationships. My weakness is making sure the plot has enough juice to keep you reading through 350 pages. I always have vague idea on how to torture my creations--mainly because it aids in their development--but the devil is in the details of the drama, isn't it?
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby oldhousejunkie » 06 Sep 2010, 11:55

I guess the time period comes first with me since I write historical fiction.

With my nearly completed MS, I started with the main character. She has very specific traits so it was easy to build the plot and other characters from there.

With my shelved WIP, I developed the plot and the character simultaneously.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Down the well » 06 Sep 2010, 12:32

Quill wrote:For me setting comes first, a place, milieu, or time period that I want to write about, that I know I could do justice to, that I think I could stick with through the thick and thin of many drafts, that I believe I could add something to the world about.



oldhousejunkie wrote:I guess the time period comes first with me since I write historical fiction.



I find this fascinating. I don't think I've ever considered setting first. I'm afraid it's usually an afterthought for me - an appendage to the plot. It's telling, though, that one of the common complaints I get from people who've critiqued my story is that the opening is light on setting details. It's something I've had to go back and beef up in revision.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 06 Sep 2010, 13:23

The setting came first this time. Then characters, then plot. It always sort of depends what triggers the ideas in the first place.
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