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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Do You Ever Wonder . . . ?

I've been doing a lot of reading over the last few weeks.

I've read several newly released historical romances. I've read a few pieces of classic literature that have been on my list to read for quite some time. I've read Lord of the Rings (again--it is an annual read for me). Right now, I'm reading the Harry Potter books (again--as a refresher before the next movie is released in November).

And all of this reading has set me to wondering something. I've been wondering how these authors have gone about coming up with these stories and these characters.

Did the characters come first and they built the plot around the characters? Or did the plots come first, and then they built the characters around the plots?

I know, I know. It is a little bit like the old question of the chicken and the egg. But I'm always curious about other authors and how they go about their craft.

I know how my stories come to me. They start as a tiny little scene. It might become a pivotal scene in the grand scheme of the novel, or it might be something that actually never makes it into the finished product. But it starts with a scene, so in that way, the plot comes first.

Or does it?

Because the next step I take is figuring out who the characters in this scene are. How did they come to be there? What made them make this particular choice? I dig really deep and discover what makes each character tick before I know anything else about the plot, aside from that one little scene that instigated it all.

Only then, after I know all the ins and outs of my characters, and how they will react if placed in certain situations, do I begin to formulate the rest of my plot.

But that's just me. I know every writer is different in how they go about creating their characters and their plots.

Am I alone in thinking about these kinds of things as I read? Does anyone else sit and wonder if J.K. Rowling knew that her characters were going to go through the things they go through in book seven when she started writing book one? Does anyone else question whether Lord of the Rings would have ended in an entirely different manner if Tolkien had chosen Sam to be his hero instead of Frodo? Do these kinds of questions drive anyone else to the point of madness, or is it just me?

And if you know what your own process for story germination is and don't mind sharing, please do. Just because I'm always curious.

~Baroness Blithe


  1. For me, I think it's usually characters that come first. At the moment, I'm working on a series and the way it's working out, one of my secondary characters usually steps up, waves their hands and says, "Yo, I'm here...I deserve better than secondary status." Then I have to figure what exactly is going on with that character's life to make it worth their own book. But, thus far, it works for me. It's not always who I think it might be either. In the current book, my MC's ex-boyfriend stepped up to the plate, unannounced, and now I have to run with it...once I finish the current.

    Definitely character first, then plot.

  2. I love hearing authors talk about their process. But I suspect hey don't really know how they do it. So much of creativity takes place on a subconscious level. So when you say 'characters first' or 'plot first' it's simply a way of categorizing something which is indescribable. So I don't spend much time thinking about it.

  3. It's almost always a conversation between two people, then I ask, why would these people be having this conversation? Then comes the where.

  4. Tory, that's happened to me on a number of occasions. I try to think ahead of time about which characters might deserve more focus, but it doesn't always work.

    Clarissa, you're so right that it is really an indescribable process. Even when I think I know how I go about something, the next time it will inevitably be different.

    Jessica, you get conversations first? Very interesting. Conversations and dialogue are almost always some of the last bits I have.

  5. I always want to know how other writers do things. When I started writing, it was so I could figure out "the rules". LOL Later I wanted to know if my process was "normal". Now I'm just interested in any tidbits that would enhance what I do.

    But basically a scene appears, and as I'm writing it, the characters say something or do something that reveals an interesting bit of info, and then I go from there. It's almost like unraveling a mystery, taking one clue and using that as a stepping stone to the next one.


  6. I either dream or daydream new stories when I have a quiet moment. Quite often this happens when my DH is driving the car. (Hows that for trust!) But I'm not quite clear if the scene comes first or the characters themselves. Either way I get a short little synopsis out of my distraction and file it away for later. :o)

  7. Donna, I like the idea of unraveling a mystery. Even if I don't write mysteries. LOL. I can't even imagine what unraveling the mystery of a mystery would be like. My brain would probably hurt.

    Heather, you're lucky to have the DH driving while you're daydreaming. All too often, I'll be coming up with story ideas while I'm driving! Now that's scary. LOL.

  8. I think in terms of scenes, and then go from there. Even when writing non-fic biographies, I usually have a scene in mind that gets the creative process going.

    Faulkner got the idea for "The Sound and the Fury" by imagining the funeral scene, with Benjy looking up at Caddy's muddy drawers as she climbs the tree to peer in the window. I always thought that was a cool story. :)

  9. For me it always starts with a spark. Usually a scene between my two main characters. Great post, Baroness!

    Come over to see the Baroness in action ladies, at http://ajandcharli.blogspot.com/2010/08/dinner-with-jaws.html

  10. it truly is amazing how the creative process works differently for everyone. I, too, am amazed when I think of JK Rowling's tale. Did she know when she put pen to paper how incredibly layered a tale she was about to write?
    Myself, it starts with a mood or feeling I want to capture.