Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Plot vs. Character

Today I thought I’d post a bit about my writing process. Right now I’m in the developing stage of a project that I’m super excited about and this is what’s been going through my head this week.

When you’re writing do you start with character, plot, setting? Something else?

For me it’s mostly simultaneous—a vague wisp of an idea. I see a character in a certain situation (usually bad) and wonder how she/he got there. From there I start asking questions. Who is this person? How did she come to be in such a situation? Why is this situation particularly bad for this character? What about the setting works against my character?

I start sketching out the idea in my head long before anything ever makes it to paper (even in note form). Usually if I go to sleep with a thought or question in my head my subconscious will work on it and by morning I know the answer. Nothing is ever set in stone, and I often have to go back and change details, but at least now I have a basic idea of where I’m headed.

At this point I have ideas for the beginning and end, but how did my characters get to the end? What did they face and how did the conquer it? How did my characters grow during this process?

Now I start writing things down.

First I fill in details about the main characters and antagonist. I’m obsessive compulsive about names. Seriously. I need to find the perfect name before I can move on. Sometimes it changes, but I need a name to work with. (I’ll be posting about naming characters in the near future). After I have their names then I start asking them questions. Who are they at their core? Greatest strengths and weaknesses? What do they care about most in the world? What makes them most disgusted about life?

Next I think about how the setting can work to further the plot. Present vs. Future. I rarely work in the past. If it’s present what about where they are makes things difficult for them? Is it a small town where they feel smothered? A big city where they feel invisible? If I’m working in the Future its almost always a Dystopia. What about this future is challenging to my character? Is my character independent in a world that is far too oppressive? Is she/he scared of the technological advancements and what that means for humanity?

And then I dig in deep to the plot. I look for the truth. The light. What makes my idea a universally relatable subject that will draw my readers into my story? What’s at stake? And the all important question: What’s the hook? I combine all these ideas elements and start a three act sketch.

Which is where I am now. Stay tuned.


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