Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The chicken (characters) or the egg (story)?

I am a rule follower, no doubt about it. I don't get in the express line with thirteen items; I get a mammogram every year; I floss. Once, I missed my connection at the Dallas airport because I took the train instead of walking, since that's what an airline official instructed me to do. The Guy (my husband) tried to tell me it would be faster to walk. "But she said to get on the train!" I kept saying. Oh, I can still hear myself.

Except for driving the speed limit, Plotter is a rule follower too. That's one of the reasons we get on so well. I can't tell you the times we've screamed in stereo between clenched teeth, "Why can't people just do what they say they will do?" That is always done in private because it's against the rules to scream in public unless you are being attacked or are at a football game. (If being attacked at a football game leads to double screaming, that's also within the rules.)

Imagine Plotter's surprise when it turned out that my writing style was, shall we say, free form. She's all about the story and she is very, very good at it. She wants to tell a story and needs some interesting characters to make it happen. Internal conflict, external conflict, Her black moment, His black moment, goal, and resolution—thank goodness she worries about all that so I don't have to.

I am not so much about the story. For me, the characters always come first and then I want something interesting for them to do. I've heard of other writers who fill out extensive questionnaires about their characters. I don't do that but, when developing a new character, I carry him with me in my head all the time. He does everything with me. I know what he likes to eat, listen to, read, and watch on television. I need to know if he's left handed, if he can draw, if he can dance. Even if it never comes up in the story, I want to know if he uses sugar, Splenda, or Equal and whether he eats whole wheat or sour dough. And most important, I want to know why he makes the choices he does. All that helps me know why it has to be her and no one else will do.

What comes first for you—the story or the characters? Do you have a method for character development?


  1. I'm a strange hybrid, but I got caught up so much in the PLOT element of the story, that I forgot to ask my characters what they want from me. Why do they need me to tell their story? And more. Any rate, after the last workshop I went to, I decided not to try to direct them any more. I'm going onto my 4TH REVISION and I'm still not getting the mid point section right. But now I want to talk to them before I start implementing all these crazy ideas that keep popping into my head.

    And in a romance: character is everything. If my readers don't fall in love with my hero and if they don't believe my heroine DESERVES him, well the game is over.

  2. Christine,

    You are are right. Falling in love with the hero is a must. I tend to give the heroes more energy than the heroines.

    We find talking about the characters to be very helpful. Plotter has her characters and I have mine. Sometimes I have to call her and say, "Would Such-and-Such do this?"

  3. Its a mix for me, sometimes its an idea of a story and then I find the characters to match.

    Many times my characters are not forthcoming and that frustrates me. My current hero drinks vodka, I do not. Hard to converse internally with that!

    I like that you both talk to each other about these wonderful people you develop.

  4. M.V.

    I drink vodka. I can talk to you about him.

  5. Pantser,
    I do believe we need to have a conversation...LOL


  6. M.V., we always need to have a conversation!

  7. Sorry, I'm so late to the partay. :)

    I usually get my heroes first. Then the heroines come along. Through them, I see the scene/historical period. Somehow after all that, the story seems to flow.

    Love my Alpha heroes!

  8. Glad you came, Kathy. Stop in tomorrow and tell us what you're reading.