Character vs. plot: comme vous voulez

“Before I began writing my suspense novel UNDERWATER, I knew the basic plot and the conflict that my characters would face (I didn’t know how to start without it). I had identified the plot points and story arc, though I also had “unplanned complications” along the way. When I began writing the story, though, I started with my characters. I had to know them well (especially the heroine and the villain), so that I could describe their behavior and write their dialogue – so that I knew how they would engage.

However…I realized that another character needed to be different from what I originally planned…I made some changes, and she became more vital to the story, and a stronger, much more interesting character. Problem solved!”

– a Comment I made on writer Deanna Raybourn’s blog post of March 13, 2014. (I met her earlier this month at the Dahlonega Literary Festival when we were both a panelists discussing suspense in fiction.)

IMG_0145About half the panel: Deanna’s on the far right, wearing a reddish-pink scarf, and I’m wearing gray.

The question was about plot versus character, and Deanna and I responded to it differently. For her, it was all about plot – she starts with that, then thinks up and creates her characters. For me – and for the other panelists – characters came first.

We all agreed that either way works – it’s all about writing a compelling story, no matter what your approach. But I didn’t fully understand Deanna’s (or realize how much it and my own have in common) until I read her blog post.

The character that I had to change in UNDERWATER – who became more vital to the story – was someone who developed as I wrote the book. I realized that her personality, her backstory, even her demons were integral to the plot. I knew she would play an important role, but originally, I didn’t know how important.

Hopefully, neither does the reader.

In any case, for me it’s important to imaginer les personnages – imagine the characters – before crafting a story’s plot. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the plot in my head, or even on paper on a computer file (I prefer a blank screen over a clean sheet of paper; typing flows better for me than handwriting).

La réponse to the question? Comme vous voulez – as you wish. Either can work, but flexibility seems key. That way, you’re open to “unplanned complications” (and other elements) that can solve pose problems!

Vive la différence!

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