Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Which comes first: character or story?

Most writers would agree that the first thing you have to have in order to write a story or novel is an IDEA. Something or someone appears in your mind, requesting that you write about it or him or her. Personally, I find that my ideas are usually about a story line. For example: There's a house that's rumored to be haunted. The house looks like a duplex I used to live in.

This idea spawns a number of questions such as: Does anyone live there now? If so, who? Who is supposedly haunting the house? Where (in what city, country) is the house located? Who are the neighbors? Has anyone investigated the rumors? What happened?

From there, I would probably start to hone in on a particular character from whose point of view I think I might like to write -- for example, someone who lives in the house, someone who lives nextdoor, someone who investigates paranormal activity, the ghost him/herself, the house itself.

I usually don't start with a character, but I can see how that could happen. Perhaps in your mind there's a tall, gangly boy with straw-colored hair who is running away from home. From there, you would try to discover who he is, why he's running away, where he plans to go, and so forth.

So what usually comes first for you? A character who insists on your attention or a story that wants to be told?


  1. Interesting post, Scotti. For me, most of the time it's character. I get a visual of what he/she looks like, the quirks, a name. Sometimes I have a story in mind, but I have many characters running around in my head without a home. Sounds slightly psychotic, I know.

  2. Dawn, I don't think you're even slightly psychotic! I'm always hearing that children's novels should be character-driven, and I think that's why you're so good at writing for a middle-grade audience, and why I'm not so good. ;)

  3. For me so far it's been the idea, the story line comes into my head, and the character develops as I write it. That is of course except when I'm writing about inanimate objects, then their character is the first thought in my head, what will they be like, how will they react etc.

  4. Helen, I'm glad you mentioned that. I can see where sometimes an idea might be the impetus and other times, it might be a character.

  5. Before this year, when I started writing flash, I used to think of plot first, then character. But flash has changed the way I write. Now I get a feeling first-like embarrassment or regret. I can usually see a person that is experiencing that feeling. Then the situation builds around them to explain why they have that feeling. I've noticed that since I started writing this way, I say more with less words.

  6. Gen, that's very interesting! I can see that writing flash would probably have that effect. I need to give it a try!


So, what do you say?