What came first –the chicken or the egg? The same can be asked of writing –the plot or the characters?
The answer to the second question can be as contradictory as the answer to the first. Can you have a story without characters? I don’t see how. Can you have characters without a plot? I suppose, but who would want to read a story that . . . well, basically has no story?
So which should come first? Well, that would depend on what type of writer you are. If you are a character driven writer, one or more of the characters come or ‘speak’ to you and through them the story comes to life. If, however, you are a plot driven writer, the plot grows like a seed in your mind and the characters come into play as needed.
A few months ago, I attended a workshop where New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries discussed this topic. She labeled herself a plot driven writer and talked about her process. Her first draft of a manuscript was dedicated to getting the plot mapped out. She described her characters in her rough draft as ‘cardboard cutouts’. Once she completed the main story, she would then go back and add life to her characters.
Some writers use outlines, charts, and even character bios before setting fingers to keyboard. I, myself, am a character driven writer, so I cannot imagine this way of writing. Oh, I don’t usually sit down with absolutely no idea of where I want the story to go, but I let the characters bring life to my ideas. I sit down to start a new chapter and say, I want this to happen in this section, the hero/heroine/secondary character need to accomplish A, B, or C, and let the character(s) weave the story.
What did I take home from the workshop? That there is no set way to write. Both types have their good points and drawbacks. Don’t try to fit yourself into one style of writing or another. There are no set rules for creativity. Be open to new ideas –you never know what may help you out of that rut we writers sometimes find ourselves in– and what works best for you.
Keep those keyboards a tappin’.