Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

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Matt in the Hat
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Matt in the Hat » September 6th, 2010, 5:11 pm

I always used to think that I had to come up with a plot first and fill in the characters to serve it. But then last year in high school I took a creative writing class, and we talked a lot about the importance of the characters driving the plot, and how in real life people make their own choices that influence the outcome of situations, and it should be the same in writing. So now I might come up with a small plot idea, but from there I put my focus on developing a believable character and let them decide the plot for themselves through their actions and such.

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dios4vida
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by dios4vida » September 6th, 2010, 7:56 pm

It really depends for me. My first novel it was a setting/plot combination. My second was a character. One WIP it was a character (after a fashion) and the other was a setting. I guess I'm just a random kind of person, so the most random of things will start a story in my mind.
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Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by AintTellin » September 7th, 2010, 12:28 pm

I am a setting first person as well. I choose an exciting location that I find interesting. Then choose a character by asking who it would be interesting to see there. Inciting incident usually is how they arrived. Plot then evolves from the interaction of the characters with the setting. Then again I treat the setting as a character itself.

Example:
I want to write about an Mystical Island of Mysteries.
It would be fun to see a bunch of strangers with different backgrounds.
I guess they could get there in a plane crash, as it explains why they are strangers.
They try to survive and discover the mysteries of the Island.

Boom, LOST. Thats a method that works for me.
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Down the well » September 7th, 2010, 3:13 pm

AintTellin wrote:Then again I treat the setting as a character itself.
I figured that's what you setting-first people must be doing. It's something I definitely need to work on. I haven't quite learned how to elevate setting to the same level I treat character. Maybe I should try giving my setting a name - call it Frank or something so I stop ignoring it. :)

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Leonidas
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Leonidas » September 11th, 2010, 4:15 pm

It often depends on the story for me. The story that has most dominated my life came to me as an idea, rather than a character. It was actually a dream. There was no real plot, beyond the most basic spark, and I've forgotten the characters that were in the dream. Other times, a character will come to me (maybe I wanted to name them something, and the character grows from that) and a story will form around them.

Character is what I view to be the most important aspect of writing, so even if a plot idea comes to me, it generally comes with at least a hint of character. And then it doesn't get written until I know those characters.

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Matthew MacNish
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Matthew MacNish » September 11th, 2010, 6:31 pm

This is such a great question, thanks for putting this one forth. For me personally there are two different and somewhat opposite aspects to this question.

As a reader character almost always has to come first. If I am reading a book and I don't care about or haven't connected with the protagonist, the narrator or at very least one major supporting character within the first several chapters then the plot, setting, premise and writing almost don't matter. There are exceptions to this "rule", of course. For example Cormac McCarthy's The Road took a while to really let me into the characters, but the writing was so beautiful, so lyrical that it worked out. Another example would be Tolkien's Silmarillion. There is almost no strong sense of character for the first third or more of the book, but because of the kind of tale it is (a sort of collection of myths and legends meant to expand the universe of another tale) it also worked. Would I have given it as much leeway if I had not already read The War of The Ring? That I cannot say for certain.

When writing I find my process usually to be completely different. I've only ever written one novel, and it's not published, so I'm no expert, but I also have written several short stories and bits of flash fiction. The process is usually quite similar. When writing I almost always start with setting, then premise, then plot. Character usually comes last. I mean there has to be a glimpse of an idea of character before you can start anything else, but a real strong sense of a well fleshed out character is almost always the last thing I achieve. In fact a true and honest characterization almost never shines through until after several revisions. This is more true for novel length works than other things, but still applies to shorter tales.

That's not to say that I think anyone else should work as I do. Whatever method works for you is fine. As long as you tell a compelling story who cares how you got there?

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Aimée » September 11th, 2010, 7:04 pm

Character always come first for me. My characters are always very well fleshed out, and my plot is always lacking. But usually the characters fill it in for me.

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by bestseller » September 11th, 2010, 10:30 pm

Funny how this subject is coming up. I was at a writing seminar today and we were just discussing this topic.

For my first novel, it came simultaneously. I had the basic outline of a character and a basic plot outline -- start to finish. And, as I wrote the story, both were fleshed out. But, in this case, I'd have to say it was primarily the plot that was "first."

Now, struggling to get going on my second book, I see a character forming in my head, but I'm not quite sure where her story will take me. So, in this case, I've got a bit of the character first.

I bet, if we all looked at our writing objectively, we'd see that there are pieces of both right at the beginning. We have a basic idea of our person AND plot. And, I bet 95% of the time they both change.

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arbraun
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by arbraun » September 12th, 2010, 12:01 am

I usually start with the plot, which involves conflict, choices and what's at stake. When I'm working on a trilogy, of course I'll start with the characters. I think it depends on the book idea also.

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 12th, 2010, 4:50 pm

Plot first generally, but characters arrive close behind. Obviously, neither lives without the other.

HilaryJ, you'll never get bored reading Popular Mechanics, as 67% of little French girls living in buried coffins agreed in a recent poll. And 73% of them HATED Harry Potter, Down the Well! 52% of them said they were living in buried coffins in the first place to get away from Harry Potter!

AintTellin, that LOST idea could catch on. I see a TV series...

Regarding setting, I try to avoid scenes happening Nowhere In Particular, in corridors or non-de-script rooms or streets.

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Down the well » September 13th, 2010, 1:59 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote:HilaryJ, you'll never get bored reading Popular Mechanics, as 67% of little French girls living in buried coffins agreed in a recent poll. And 73% of them HATED Harry Potter, Down the Well! 52% of them said they were living in buried coffins in the first place to get away from Harry Potter!

And who exactly were these poll bearers? I'll have you know I am gravely suspicious of anyone who claims to know the reading preferences of little French girls who live in coffins.


*groans*

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Quill
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Quill » September 13th, 2010, 8:55 pm

I think you're both missing the plot. And taking a lot for granite about little French girls.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by Nathan Bransford » September 16th, 2010, 12:26 am

Here's my take on the general subject: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/06 ... rable.html

Short version: they're inseparable. Though I agree when coming up with ideas, one inevitably tends to come first. The trick is making the plot challenge a great character, or coming up with a character to fit the great plot.

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by WalterDinjos » September 16th, 2010, 4:24 pm

PLOT, in my view, comes first. Then CHARACTER comes before SUBPLOTS.

PLOT is like DESTINATIONS: The Inciting Incident (London), First Plot Point (New York), Second Plot Point (Paris), etc.

While CHARACTER is like TRAVELLARS. They walk the many roads to those destinations.

Traveller A and B want to move from London to New York.
Traveller A goes by air maybe because he's afraid of the sea. Now that's a choice he made. And there is a personal reason behind it. Without a Present Location and a DESTINATION (THE PLOT) in place, he wouldn't have had to make that choice.
Along the way, he is threatened by a possible plane crash (subplot). How will he survive unscathed.

Traveller B travels by sea because he is afraid of height (a choice and reason). But along the way, he is threatened by a shipwreck and a hungry shark (subplots).

PLOT structures the story, just like the skeleton gives the body form.

Character is like the meat, the flesh, the organs. Now you can't mould and set the flesh and organs in there proper places without having the bones in place first. If not they'd flop.

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Re: Plot or Character - Which Comes First?

Post by jetchez » September 17th, 2010, 4:51 pm

So far, my stories have always started out with character. I kind of stumble upon a character first and once I get to know them a little, start wondering why they are the way they are--struggles, conflicts, what they've been through--which eventually develops into the plot.

But the process is different for other writers and I don't think there's any right way. Just whatever works for you and will help you produce your best work.

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