What comes first, characters or plot?


I’m a characters-first kind of gal. My protagonist will sort of jump into my head and demand to be heard. I usually have a strong sense of his/her personality and voice. I know who they are and who I want them to become.

Soon after, the protagonist will reveal his/her love interest, family, and friends. At this early stage in the developmental process, the character may or may not be attached to a particular story. This could mean I don’t yet know what he/she wants more than anything in the world (which I determined in my last post is a fairly important thing to know!).

I like to come up with the “fun stuff” first. (I think it’s “fun stuff,” but I’d be curious to know what you think!). This is physical appearance, age, hobbies, relationships with other characters.

*A peek at my secret Pinterest inspiration board.

Needless to say, I tend to get a little carried away when it comes to relationship dynamics. The tension/attraction between my protagonist and his/her love interest is always especially interesting. ūüėČ

Sometimes I get too caught up in creating the cliche/stereotypical relationships we see all over the place – twins separated at birth, best friends who are secretly related, a seemingly dead parent who is actually alive, the villain is revealed to be my protagonist’s father. (Seriously, coming up with this convoluted stuff is my guilty pleasure.)

Plot, unfortunately, is not quite as easy.

For those of us who create characters first, how do we get from life-like characters to a plot that drives the story?

The answer, I think, is more eloquently stated by S. Jae-Jones (JJ) over at PubCrawl in this awesome article about turning an idea into a novel.

She also tends to start with character (sometimes it’s nice to know we’re not alone!), and she writes about separating your “story seeds” into three categories: Character, Premise, and Plot. You’ve got to identify which of these three you’re missing.

In my last post, I wrote about the necessity of your character’s greatest desire/goal, and it’s direct effect on the conflict of the story. I also wrote about my frustration over realizing I didn’t know The Point of my story. (I’ve capitalized it here like JJ¬†capitalized it in her article.)

She described the feeling like this:

For years, I lived with these characters; I knew their backstories, their histories, their futures, but what I did not know was The Point. Essentially, I didn’t know why other people should care about these characters. They didn’t have any purpose…

Sometimes all it takes is more brainstorming. Sleep on it. Free write. Combine two or more ideas and see what happens. (This is what ultimately worked for me!)


So you tell me – what comes first for you? How do you round up the other story elements? Share your thoughts! Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address¬†about this process.¬†


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