What's Your Strong Suit - Character or Plot?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Character Source
Most times, my story ideas begin with someone in a sticky situation. If his/her predicament is intriguing enough, I start thinking about what else could happen. The first ideas don’t get written down immediately.  If they keep returning and I’m able to expand on them, then I make notes. 

My biggest thrill in storytelling comes from watching characters become different people as they face and overcome their challenges. Coming up with interesting plot twists does provide a challenge, but I get intense satisfaction from moulding story characters into people with admirable qualities (mostly) by story’s end. 


Though I consider people my most important ingredient, I’m aware that without an interesting premise and plot, my story will fall flat. 

What gives you the most satisfaction? Is it in writing characters that readers can follow for hundreds of pages? Or do you prefer to spin interesting story threads that wrap around your characters and take them for a ride? 
You might want to have a look at David Baboulene’s take on that here. Scroll down the page a little bit until you get to the article.

Here’s to the start of a productive week.


  1. I'm like you in that I need to first see and feel a character in an intense situation before I can even think about starting a new manuscript.

  2. BOTH! But since I have to choose, I'll say character. Gotta have those unique and dynamic characters to create a fabulous plot!

  3. I see them as the same thing since the point of plot is to reveal character, and the greatest character is of no use to me if he isn't doing anything.

    Moody Writing

  4. Michelle, it's exactly like that on my side.

    Laura, unique is wonderful and I find that the best characters I read about are those who have something really special about them. Add that to the fabulous plot you mentioned and you have the ingredients for a compelling story.

    Mooderino, thanks for dropping in. Good take. Makes for balanced writing.

  5. Both are important, but I'm all about characters. I wrote on another blog, the other day, that characters need to be awesome, but they have to be doing something worth reading to really showcase them.

  6. I think I'm a character driven person as usually my characters come to me mostly fully formed. I have to work at putting them into a plot.

  7. I always know who my characters are. I don't always know what's going to happen to them :)

  8. I'm more comfortable with characters and setting. Plot is soooo important of course, but I have to put a lot more effort into organic plotting.

  9. I'm much more into plot, but I believe you can't skimp on character. Or else your reader wont invest.

  10. I think plot is my strong suit over character--though they are both important in a story.

  11. True, Kelley, without a challenging situation, characters can't shine!

    Bish, I'm lucky in that I usually get character and situation in one shot.

    Sarah, sounds like you and Bish are in the same boat.

    Rula, we all have our strength and weaknesses. I have to remember to get my setting in there after I get carried away with the excitement of writing each scene.

    So true, Clarissa. The reader will want to know who they're spending time with.

    GE - I guess this means you put a fair amount of time into working on your characters.

  12. Hmm. My stories seem to be more character driven in that the plot comes from situations they get themselves into or create. For example, one character could be a chronic liar, and her lies are what drives the plot forward until its climax.

  13. I love to read about characters who change over time (i.e. SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS).

  14. Oh, characters, definitely. I cringe at plot. Action scenes make me wince. I just want my characters to love each other and go talk quietly somewhere. Which does not a good story make :-)

  15. Most of the time, I see the story first. Then my mind starts to think about the characters that a story needs. I have had characters do complete 360s on me--they started out one way but changed into completely different people.

  16. Marlena, life is certainly like that. We tend to get into certain situations because of our personality and the decisions we make.

    Loree, I'm all about personality first.

    AA, that's a big thing for me too, seeing how people use their situations to better themselves.

    Deniz, your response made me chuckle. I wonder how we don't become disturbed people, seeing as how we're always about creating mayhem in our characters' lives.

    Liz, very interesting. Creativity has no bounds. We all do things so differently it's amazing!

  17. It's my characters who drive me to start a story. Even though I outline, I still have areas of weakness in the plot that need fixing during revisions. But as long as I have the characters and a strong sense of who they are, I write to the end.

  18. I like the way you describe seeing your characters overcome obstacles. I feel like that too.

    I'd have to say character over plot. There are books that are like roller coasters. But some leave me hollow afterwards. The ones that make me love the characters, big plots or not, are the ones that stick with me. So that's what I aim to do with my own writing.

  19. Hi there! I've chosen you for an award. Come to my blog and you will see it.

  20. Good question. I think my strong suit is character. I think I do take my characters for quite a ride... and hopefully my readers too.

    I just interviewed Molly at my blog. She's giving away a signed book if you're interested. There's a choice. The winner will either get The Ghost Downstairs or What Scotland Taught Me.

  21. Ha, never a good idea to ask me when I'm drafting -- the answer might be 'neither', depending on my day!

    On the whole, though, character for sure -- my stories are always about particular people.

  22. So true, Theresa. Non-stop action tends to wear me out. The characters don’t get a chance to breathe, reflect and act as anything other than action figures. Characters definitely do it for me too.

    Thanks, Julia. I’ll be along in a bit.

    Good that you can combine character and plot in the way you do. Had a peep at your blog. Love what you’ve done with it.

    Amie, I suppose that for those of us who build stories around character first and plot second, the people who show up first will always get the nod. I believe the stories I create are different simply based on the person I'm creating them for.


Don't be shy, I'd love to hear what you think.