Mailbag: Characters versus Plot

It’s been a busy couple of days, Action Force, but I finally found the time to answer a question posed a while back.  Let’s reach into the ol’ electronic mailbag and see what we have here.

Do you ever envison a scene in your head and then write a story to host that scene? IE: Valkyries descending on a modern field of battle to take the chosen to valhalla (yes, it’s all mine and I’m working on it) Or do you create a character and they drive the story?

It’s never quite an either / or situation.  One thing I’ve learned from doing this for ten years is that there isn’t a clear moment of creation.  Ideas are always simmering below the surface, waiting to be discovered, and when they finally take shape, they can do so in countless ways.

But, if I were to make a guess, I’d say most of my stories start with a character first.  I usually begin with a character I find interesting and then drop them in an interesting situation to see what happens.

This isn’t always true though.  Sometimes, it’s the opposite.  For my novel Monster, I had a very loose idea for Monster and his character, but the story really didn’t take shape until I started with a scene where a yeti is eating ice cream in a supermarket.  In that case, the second protagonist of the story, Judy, happened almost completely by accident.  She wasn’t intended to be a major character, just an introduction to the world.  She quickly took on a life of her own, and after that, the story became very much about her.

My current work in progress starts with the last man trying to save the last cat from a killer robot.  While I knew our hero, Felix, would be the protagonist, I honestly didn’t know a lot about him or his world (aside from the broad strokes) until I actually sat down and started writing.

But, usually, it’s the character that comes first.  Everybody’s different, and I’ve learned from years of writing and hanging out with writers that everyone has their own way of doing it.  If it works, then it works.  Results are what matter, and if someone manages to finish their story and get it out there, how they do it is a personal process.

And a follow up to characters: Do they seem to run off and do things, say things and generally run off in a different direction that you planned them to?

Yes.  All the time.

This might have to do with the fact that I am not a serious outliner or that I don’t do a lot of character prep work before starting the story.  I tend to have a general idea of the characters before beginning the story, but it’s more like a sketch at that point, subject to change.  Like real life, you really don’t know what a person is like until you’ve spent some time with them in multiple settings.

Some writers do it differently, and if it works, that’s great.  But for me, I find that when a character goes another way, it is usually the right way to go.  It isn’t always the easiest way to go, but easy isn’t always the most interesting way usually.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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One Comment

  1. Posted July 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    From my own experience I would agree that different ideas come up in different ways. It would be a lot easier if they all came up the same way but that’s not how the creative process works I suppose.

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