1. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    (chicken or the egg) Character or Plot; which comes first?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Tea@3, Jan 9, 2016.


    Do you prefer to begin from a plot idea, then build the character?

    Or do you prefer to begin with a character then come up with a plot?



    Let me explain:

    I have pondered this all week because my best friend recently became very enthusiastic over a new breakout novel she just discovered. The thing has so much praise all over the net that it's overwhelming, everyone loves it. The writer's from our state but I don't think that's part of it since the book is selling big nationally. Anyway, my friend keeps finding articles & interviews etc about this 'new sensation' writer everyone loves so much. I started thinking about why he's such a huge instant success and what does it take to bring out such positive reaction from so many readers. The first thing I thought was, "is it his plot or is it his characters they all fell in love with?"


    So then I began thinking about my own stories. And I concluded I'm primarily a plot-genesis writer.

    Now I'm wondering if starting with plot is a weaker method than starting with a character then building a plot organically from that character. I'm wondering if the character-genesis writing method is what adds that special intangible 'empathy/connection' that pulls the reader in and nails them in the heart. I think I dream up some very good plots, but I fear that isn't enough to really connect with a reader in an intimate way.


    Anyone want to offer thoughts or insight?

    Thanks in advance. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2016
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I doubt it matters. Setting cannot be wholly separated from character and character cannot be wholly separated from setting, so either starting point will require you to make a two-way connection between them. The best starting point is whatever best catches your interest.
     
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  3. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    It really depends on what you are trying to write and how you go about it.

    I mean that there are stories which have really intriguing characters with really intriguing plots. In these stories we have a very close relationship with the characters growth (Much focus upon their complexity, their thoughts, feelings, fears, happiness, etc. We have a very detailed log about their reactions along the way). The plot also is exciting and has a mystery to be solved and a difficult mission to be accomplished. (For example, The end of Mr. Y from Scarlett Thomas would be one as such).

    Then there are stories with really intriguing plots. In these stories which are usually more fast paced, we don't get so much detail about the characters inner thoughts and emotions and we are left to understand him only upon his reactions. It could be a comedy or a fairy tail usually. (Neil Gaimann's "Dream Hunters" which I absolutely love, focuses upon plot mostly. Didn't disappoint one bit).

    Finally there are stories with very intriguing characters. The plot is nothing so exciting, slice-of-life situations usually and slow paced plots, but we get a really vast view inside the characters soul. Apart from the psychological aspect of the MC we get his philosophical and spiritual worries. (Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf" has a slow -paced and somewhat surrealistic twist towards the end plot, in a story where the MC is narrating about his existential issues). (I'm not sure if "existential" is the right word but I hope you get what I mean. It's more complex than that).

    I can find books that correspond to any of those types of stories interesting. As a writer you manipulate the focus of your readers. But I think that character and plot go together. They compliment each other. If the character doesn't compliment the plot or if the plot doesn't complement the character then the story remains kind of blunt and boring.
     
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  4. appledotte
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    appledotte Member

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    I think it really depends on the reader more so than your particular writing style. Certain readers love plot over characters and vice versa. So long as you write honest to yourself, then I feel certain you will find your readers out there.

    I honestly have a hard time deciding if I am plot driven or character driven. Generally I decide things based on what sensation I want the story to have. My friends joke that I am all about the vibes, ha ha. Once I think of a sensation I want to try to replicate everything else comes from that. There are times where a specific dialogue piece was my kernel of inspiration, but generally my brain goes, "What would it be like to read a book like..."

    Most of my friends, who write, are character and world oriented. They put so much effort and detail into their characters and world (which may as well be another character to them) that they get so mad when I don't. You should see their frustration when they ask what state something is taking place in or what colors the walls of a room are and my response is to shrug and say "I don't know. Never cared about it". It only frustrates them MORE that my attitude works for my style. I do put in details, particularly in places I want to slow down the reader or add tension.

    Sorry for digressing. Still though, I don't think plot vs character is about the writer and their style, but more about the reader's preferences. Like anything else though, preferences change on whim so for a bit readers may be more interested in plot before switching to characters and then back again.
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Why can't both develop together? My plot developed at the same time my protagonist did. They were interrelated.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if the actual order--that is, which one you think of first--matters. But for me, as a reader or viewer of movies and TV and plays and whatever, character is by far the most important, and the plot just exists as a mechanism for exploring the characters.
     
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  7. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is one of those planner/pantser things, I think. Everyone's got their own way of doing it, but there's no right or wrong way to go about it.

    Personally, I'll normally start with the plot, and the characters are fleshed out as I go. But when it turns out that the plot I had planned doesn't work - usually because the characters I've created just wouldn't do that - the plot changes to suit what they would do, rather than the characters changing to fit the original plan.
     
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  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's like asking a marathon runner which leg they move first. They may have a favourite side, but it's really not important to the ultimate success of their run. They're going to be using both legs over and over and over again through the journey.
     
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  9. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    Lady plot is a character all on her own...
     
  10. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes an idea will rise from dialog between the characters, other times I will imagine a character in a situation.
     
  11. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I think plot is the key. If you have a good plot then write your characters into it. What sours the plot is when we take those characters and enhance them so much that the readers start doubting the plot. Complex characters do not work with simple plots. Keep the characters even keeled to your story. If the story is good, they will love the characters.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm more plot creates character - character creates plot. I don't think you can dissect the two. Take Jane Eyre a governess and Mr. Rochester a wealthy man with an enormous estate - separated by experience and their positions in life. If it wasn't for the setting of Thornfield and the odd goings on I'm not sure Jane and Rochester would be very special. You could in fact tweak some details about them and dumb down their dialogue and turn them into - Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. What makes them who they are is the goings on and their reactions. The gothic setting/atmosphere. The rich romantic language.
     
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  13. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    The chicken probably came first if you believe in an all powerful designer f life. If you believe in evolution, it was a gradual development of the two; the weird looking beak creature and the soft shell blob that it produces.
     
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  14. Passero
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    I think they go hand in hand. A you write completely different stories based upon the same plot but with two different characters. They both "experience" the plot in a different way and will make different decisions leading into a different outcome and dynamics.
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Not according to Dwight V. Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer) and after doing it that way, I agree. If you know in advance what a character needs to do, it's easier to find someone who can do it. In other words, shape the character to fulfill the plot.

    Yes, you can do it the other way around, but the plot won't be as engaging because it'll only be there to serve the character(s). And that's too much like real life.
     
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  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me they go hand in hand. Ok, I usually get the Idea for a plot, but the character kind of goes with it. When i get the story Idea, I instantly see the character in My head as well. So I don't think you can separate the two.
    On a Side note I have a Hard time understanding how writers can start building the world and dedicate months and years to that without having a story. In the same Way I find it a little contrieved creating a character without a story. Even though I'm a plotter It makes more sense to me when a pantser start writing and start revealing both character and story together. To me it's Hard to have one without the Other.
     
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  17. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Hmmm...i guess my plot come first. I know what i want to write about and at the time the characters are blurry. Honestly though if my characters are blurry its for mere seconds or minutes. My characters and Plot are usually thought of in the same sitting.
     
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  18. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I appreciate all the fine answers here.

    I suppose that both elements (plot & char) develop at different rates, different points, and in different ways, from different sources/impeti. One growing before the other doesn't really matter, I guess.

    In fact, I think they really grow together, connected.

    But here is something that came to me on my walk yesterday, and I would like your opinion:

    A plot-centered novel will work without strong characters. But a character centered novel won't work without a strong plot.

    Curious, do you agree or disagree?
     
  19. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Disagree. I'd almost reverse it... a character-centred novel will work without a strong plot, but a plot-centred novel won't work without strong characters.

    But I think this is going to be another damn time when the answer is subjective. I read almost entirely for characters. I don't need to like them, but I need to be intrigued by them. I need to care about what happens to them, for whatever reason. If the characters are good enough, I'll read about them going to the store and buying paint and painting their new living room, as long as there's character development mixed in along the way.

    I think other people are much more plot oriented in their reading. So I assume they'd be more likely to agree with your formulation.
     
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  20. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    @BayView Interesting. I have tried to think of examples in my experience. I like Larry McMurtry a lot and I think he is pretty solidly a character centered writer. And it's just as you say, I get riveted by his writing no matter what is happening. It's like I enjoy being 'inside' the character's head seeing through their eyes, if that makes sense. I'd say his 'plotting' is subordinate to his characterizations, except for the two or three curve balls he always throws at his characters somewhere through the mid part of the book.

    I guess I was repeating what I'd heard so many times, that 'plot' books are thin on characterization. I'm thinking spy thriller genre and some of the cookie-cutter crime drama thrillers.

    For example, Tom Clancy wrote the entire book Red October without the Jack Ryan character in it, then went back a rewrote him into the book later. So clearly he wasn't 'character-centered' in his original concept.

    I agree characters are essential, which is why I brought it up because I think in my case (the current ms on the table) the plotting is more dominant than the characterizations.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, different genres definitely have different expectations - trying to write a romance without good characterization would be disastrous, trying to write a who-dun-it without a good plot would be weird, etc.
     
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  22. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    The penny drops.

    This is the comment I was waiting for. Thanks! :)
     
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  23. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Tea@3 I actually think it's the other way around.A good plot alone isn't worth much if you don't have a character that I as a reader can root for or who leaves me wondering if and how it'll change them, how they're going to handle it and so on. if I don't care about them I won't keep reading regardless of how interesting the story seems. While on the other hand a good character driven novel doesn't really need much of a plot if the characters inner world is interesting enough.
     
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  24. Electralight
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    I think it really depends on the writer. I know a lot of writers who say their characters form the story. But I always come up with the plots (or at least an idea for one) before the characters. Sometimes I even start to write without knowing the characters names. But in all seriousness, I believe that it all comes down to how the writers mind works.
     
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  25. Lucidity
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    A bit of both for me.

    I like to know my plot and where my character will be within the plot, allowing me to perhaps build in twists and a better ending.
    I then build my character and build on him/her as the events of the plot change their personality or delve deeper into it.
     
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