Characterization over Plot

by Walter

Question: I have a hard time deciding whether I should develop my characters before I start writing, or whether I should figure out the plot, and let the characterization flow from that. What should I do?

Answer: About 80% of writers start by writing a plot outline (anywhere from one paragraph to 100 pages). The other 20% start by creating a group of characters and then imagine how they would interact in various situations.

Both these methods can work just fine.

But I would suggest you start with whatever grabs you emotionally, whatever you find most intriguing or exciting.

You are also free to bounce back and forth between the two approaches. For instance, maybe you begin with an idea for a plot that really grabs you, so you do a little work on that. Then suddenly you get an idea of who your main character or impact character or villain is. Great. You can spend a little time developing them.

You are free to decide what you'd like to fill in next - some supporting characters, a few plot events, an idea for the climax, some backstory for a character, a little bit about the setting, etc. Maybe you even write a scene or a chapter before returning to flesh out the outline a bit more.

Bouncing around a little actually helps the creative process. It's much easier to flesh out your plot once you have a few of the characters worked out. At the same time, having a certain plot in mind helps you imagine what characters might be needed or might logically turn up.

In the beginning, your focus is on all the things you would love to have in the story. As things begin to gel a bit, you can gradually shift towards making sure all the details are consistent.

Best of luck.

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