What comes first when you write, character or plot?
With pretty much everything that I have written, it was the plot that came to me first. Specific characters formed and gave the story life later down the line, only once I had let the idea stew for a while and started plotting. Recently however the image of a character appeared in my mind so vividly; it was truly bizarre, like nothing I had ever experienced before.
I don’t yet know exactly what story will end up forming around this character (and what’s interesting is that I think she will likely take on a supporting role rather than that of the protagonist) but I already see (as cheesy as it may sound) so much of her, from her Asian heritage to her confident mannerisms; from her dry humour to her fierce intelligence; from her name to her career; this is a character I just have to do something with in the future, however far off it may be.
Do you usually come up with characters or plots first? Have you ever been struck by a character or plot idea unexpectedly?
How rigidly do you follow your plans?
I’ve written a few posts relating to the planning process before, in particular about what percentage of your work is pre-decided and what you leave up to your instincts as and when you actually write. Recently however I read an article that sparked off yet another consideration I hadn’t really given much thought before: To what extent would you be willing to change the course of your story when you wrote, even if it went against your finalised plan?
The piece in question that got me thinking was an interview with JK Rowling in which she seemed to say that with hindsight, she regretted having Hermione and Ron – two of the Harry Potter series’ main characters – get together romantically at the conclusion of the books. She implied that she now felt it was the wrong decision from the perspective of the characters and that her main driving force in including the plotline was to honour her plan and own arguably selfish wishes as the author and creator of their world. The quote was as follows:
“[I] wrote the Hermione-Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfilment for reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron. I know, I’m sorry, I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.”
I found this fascinating. Throughout my own writing, I have indeed added extra subplots or supporting characters that came to me as I wrote even though they weren’t included in the initial plan but have never changed – or been tempted to change – such a major plot element.
Have you ever drastically changed elements of your story that affected the entire plot or do you always try and stick to your plan? Have you ever regretted decisions you made with regards to your characters?
Notebooks are a writer’s best friend
It seems like in every corner of my house there is another notebook to uncover. Some are new, some are years old and others I haven’t even gotten round to using yet but simply couldn’t resist the lure of a crisp, fresh booklet just waiting to be graced with untold creativity.
Each one I use inevitably ends up being filled to the brim with lists, thoughts, plot ideas, character information, concepts for the likes of poems, short stories, blog posts and who knows what other frankly nonsensical ramblings that seemed perfectly important to me at the time I wrote them. I love them however and the whole idea of feeling organised that they play into – even if in reality I am perhaps a little more scatty at times than I would like to think.
Filtering through a selection of them and rediscovering ideas I had forgotten all about, it got me thinking about the process of planning as a whole. Most writers will preach of the importance in always outlining your stories and detailing your protagonists long before you ever put pen to paper but there are certainly those who are much more comfortable with the idea of allowing the plot to drive their imagination as and when they actually write, with plotting feeling more a hindrance than a help in the long run.
I find myself being a strange hybrid of the two types. I certainly do like to outline major plot points and briefly think through my main characters before I dive fully into a project of any kind but the small details and nuances of personality that flesh out a story and make it feel real I much prefer to allow the chance to develop naturally, so as not to make me feel too heavily restricted when I write. As a lover of writing down my thoughts and ideas, I can completely understand the appeal in having every detail already planned out so you always know exactly where your story is heading but for me, I worry this would make the writing process itself feel too much like joining the dots and the stories not free to grow arms and legs and take on a life and voice of their own.
What kind of writer are you? Do you plan your work rigidly, only enough to guide you in the right direction or do you simply trust your instincts?