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What came first, the character or the plot?

September 13, 2017 3 comments

It sounds like one of those chicken and egg situations, doesn’t it?  It’s hard to have characters in a story with no plot – that’s the thing about characters, they tend to do and say things and before you know it, they’re in the middle of their own story.  It’s even harder to have a plot with no characters.  I’m sure it’s possible – but not entirely sure it’s desirable.

Mostly, you need to have both.  But which comes first.

For me, it’s usually the plot that comes first, or at least a tiny smidge of a situation or a place or even an image.  It starts small and over time it rolls along, gathering extra bits of action or scenery or more images, like staticky bits of fluff that make it bigger and bigger. And then along the way, bits break off and form their own balls of plot or else they just fall off and blow away – and may or may not blow back again.  After a while, there will be words associated with this plot-blob, and the words will gather more words and there might be a bit of plot-blob control going on – a rough list of scenes still to come or things that need to happen.  And out of all this grows a book.

Or I might have an idea and an inkling of where it’s going and start doing a rough plan at or quite near the start.  I’ll write and shape and write and shape till I have a first draft and then the real work starts as I start bashing and smashing and chiselling it into a proper narrative.

I know that for other writers that the characters might come first.  That doesn’t usually happen for me.  I might have an idea of who’s in my story, but they’re not usually very well formed when I start writing.

And that’s one of the exciting things for me.  It’s almost as if I start writing to find out who my characters are.  It’s in the scribbling down of things that might happen to them, people they might meet, things they might say or do, that I slowly get to know them.  And then they start to have their own voice and think their own thoughts and become very real to me.  Often that’s when my writing really feels as if it’s taking off.

Where does your story start? With plot?  With characters? Or with something else again?

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When not writing is still writing

July 17, 2017 1 comment

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog.  It’s been a while since I did much writing at all, to be honest.

At least, that’s one way of looking at it.

Looking at it another way, I’ve been writing every day.  Because writing doesn’t only happen when you’re sitting down in front of the laptop or when you have your notebook out and your pen poised for action.  When you’re a writer, everything you see and do and experience is potentially part of what eventually makes it onto the page.

That tic that you barely notice in the woman sitting across from you on the train might resurface in a completely different character in a completely different setting.  The way you feel when you catch that look your kids give each other that makes you realise they have their own sibling world that you can only ever be on the periphery of; that article you read about a council officer whose job is to arrange funerals for tenants who have no next of kin; that lobster creel you see sitting on the harbourside; that conversation you overhear on the bus.  Any or all of these might end up somewhere in a story.  And not just the next time you write – it could be months or years later.

I’m getting back into the way of putting pen to paper and fingers to keys at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that the time I have spent doing other things isn’t equally vital to my writing life.

That’s my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it.