It’s the age old question, isn’t it? What came first, the character or the plot? Ask any author and they’ll each have their own answer. Some will respond with an automatic ‘character’ and others will say ‘plot’ without hesitation. And then there are those authors who will stay silent, their brain whirling as they ponder your question. Slowly they’ll look at you and utter the words ‘it depends’.
I fall under the third category.
I’ve had instances where a plot has sprung to mind but I don’t have a character for it. Other times I’ve had a character appear and nowhere to put them.
So what do you when that happens? Panic? Stress? Freak out over the fact that you only have a partial idea?
Don’t worry, I’m only messing with you.
No, you let your imagination roam free. In the case of plot but no character, I’ll use my book A Distant Voice as an example. I wanted to write a book that featured country music. Great, I thought. Brilliant idea. And then I stopped patting myself on the back long enough to realize there wasn’t a voice in my head yet telling me the story.
I took myself through different character ideas. The main character will be a girl trying to break into the music industry.
No. She’ll be the daughter of famous country music stars. Oh, she’ll be a pop singer trying to take on Nashville.
None of those coaxed out the voice of my main character. She just wasn’t ready yet. Until one day she just was. Enter Violet, the granddaughter of a famous country music star who wanted to break into the music industry but was terrified to let herself try. And the rest was history.
In the case of the character coming first, my current WIP Our Last Summer came about because this pesky girl called Lindsey popped into my head one day. Lindsey was a free spirit, the type of girl who would run through a field barefoot without a care in the world. She was so clear in my mind and yet I didn’t know what to do with her or where to put her.
I pushed her aside, thinking if I ignored her for a little while she might go away. That didn’t work so I had to run through different scenarios in my head until I found a home for her. What ended up being an idea about a carefree girl who’d run barefoot through a field became a story about forgiveness and friendship and loss. And she's yet to run barefoot through a field..
So, what came first, the character or the plot?
It depends on what day you ask me.