14 February 2011

Chicken or the Egg

Plotting vs Character is often in hot debate among writers, as if, incidentally, one can survive without the other. Lots of folks love PLOT PLOT PLOT, especially mystery and thriller writers, I think, because really, what is the detective without a complicated murder to solve? But character...characters make the fictional world go 'round. If we don't love our character, why write about them? Then there are the Centrists, who advocate vague organic approaches, none of which ever make sense to me because obviously, one has to come first, a plot concept or a character, even if by miliseconds. 

I've worked both ways and I lean more toward starting with concept and plot now. This is not to say I don't dream up characters constantly. They assault my psyche day and night. But they are plotless, unformed creatures. So before I start writing I make myself do the grueling task of plotting, at least in synopsis form. Dinner before dessert, after all. Characters must prove themselves to me. Also, I think as I delve deeper into the speculative aspects of fiction, I find myself wanting to explore concepts rather than characters, at least at the outset.

However, I'm not advocating one or the other. We all have our processes. I know successful writers who start with just a name and a face and go on to sell thousands of books. So which do you start with first and why?


lesleylsmith said...

Interesting post, Editor B. :)
I must admit I start with a big idea 99% of the time. What if ...?
Then, it's on to working out the details of the plot: a problem and a solution.
Last, I address who would be the best, most relevant person to carry the actions out.

Martin Willoughby said...

I always start with a question: what would person A do if they were in situation X.

Does that mean the character first or the plot first? I don't know.

Peter Dudley said...

Metaphor Alert

For me, the act of creating the story (as opposed to writing the story) is a little like walking a mile. You can't walk a mile with your left foot, then bring the right foot along later. You can't create a story with only characters and then bring the plot along later, or create a good plot without characters that fill it.

For me, I start with plot. Maybe it's big, maybe it's little. But plot, where the characters need to act. When a character acts, there's motivation to consider. Each action is driven in part by plot and also creates more plot.

Left foot (plot) moves forward. Right foot (character) catches up, then goes ahead. Plot and character need to progress together.

If we extend the walking-a-mile metaphor to its unfortunate extreme, we might talk about going down a path, climbing over and around obstacles, backtracking, changing our shoes, getting blisters on our toes, getting lost, asking for directions, experiencing bad weather... etc. Anyway, the point is that plot doesn't happen without character, and characters don't act without plot. Which comes first? Dunno. Plot, I guess.

All plot and no character gives you The Da Vinci Code. All character and no plot gives you... um, something I probably didn't read.