Welcome to February! We have a bit of a change of pace this month. During this month and March, our questions come from our contributors. This week’s question comes from Jean Davis.
How does an story begin? We all start from some idea. Everyone starts from something different. So let’s find out what our authors do when they begin a story.
Since I’m working on a (hopefully) long-running series, the characters come first, and the plots are often created by complications from what they’ve done before. Even in the beginning of this series though, it was rather firmly wrapped around a few well-defined characters, whom I’d been playing for a while either in online roleplaying chat or in MMORPGs. I always found playing the characters to be insanely useful, especially since other players will interact with your character in ways you might not have been able to imagine yourself.
For short stories though, I often get plot ideas well before I define a character. But I’m not terribly good at short stories, so those might never see the light of day.
It varies. Sometimes characters, sometimes plot, sometimes setting, sometimes backstory, sometimes just a single scene or thought or gesture…
That’s an interesting question, and to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it. The process by which I come up with a new idea goes roughly like this: “Hey, that would be an awesome scene. I should come up with a story so I can write that.”
So you see, I don’t really come up with the character or the plot first. But if you really want to be technical about it, I usually get an idea of the type of character I want first, then I come up with the basic plot, and then I figure out the details of both as I’m writing (a planner, I ain’t).
I think first of the setting, the environment, and then I think of someone existing within that place. Once I have that, plot guides itself, since all I have to do is watch what happens.
New stories most often come to me as a character and then a situation which leads to the plot. Often it’s just a name and maybe something distinctive or interesting about the character. That detail then leads me to what could go on around them to play up that particular thing and then we’re off into the plot. Or staring at a blank screen. But generally the words start spilling out from there.
For me, it’s all about the characters. I usually get an image in my head of a specific scene and then work to flesh out the character from there. Once I have a sense of the character, I start thinking about where the character is headed and what challenges I want to set before him/her. I tend to “pants” the first 12-15K words, and then I sit down and outline the plot a bit more specifically. The more I try to impose my thoughts on plot on my characters, the harder time I have, so I’ve learned to let the characters lead the way as much as possible.
The characters. I haven’t tried plot-first in a long time, and when I did, I failed to actually have any characters that stood out.
The plot, or at least the idea comes first. Usually, with that I know a little about the protagonist or antagonist. By the time I sketch out a flow chart of major events, I have a good idea of the major characters and the basic plot. I’m a total plotter. People and events may change as I write, but I have the basics before I write the first word.
Tough question. Being one who focuses greatly on human behaviour, which absolutely fascinates me, I want to say my characters come first, but that’s not exactly true. I need a situation to put them in first. So for instance, I come up with a dilemma and then stick someone in it who might have a hard time solving it. Using this method I’m able to come up with countless scenarios for stories – the less the character fits into the situation, the longer the story is bound to be. Complicated, for me, equals novel.
Sitting out this week, as she’s been rather busy recently.
It really depends for me. My most recent idea was a character, a singer. I haven’t even thought of the plot yet, as it’s just an idea for a book far in the future. My entire premise for Ariadne started out as a setting, actually. Then I created a group of characters to form a plot around. I became quite fluid after that, constantly changing as I refined the idea. My current fantasy idea started out with the world and a basic plot. So you see, it happens both ways, and other ways, too.
How about you?
When you start a story, do you think of the plot or character first? Or maybe something else? What does your story grow from? Leave your answers in the comments below.