Friday, October 22, 2010

One Hand Washes the Other

I've had feedback on several blog posts and it appears I've left some people with the wrong impression.  I'm going to see if I can clear it up.  I've been writing about the importance of characters and plot in my stories. Characters make my stories come alive but only when they react and interact with each other.  Plot is usually where I start in a story so that I know where the story is going.

From this, some people have assumed that for me plot is more important.  That's not true.  Plot, the way I use it, is like an outline.  It tells me what happens, when it happens, where it happens, how it happens, and to whom.  The characters tell me why it happens.  The character-plot connection are like two hands, one washing the other.  Even when I plot, character decisions get made and when I develop characters, plot usually changes.  Once I've worked out the rough plot details, I go back and focus on the characters to make sure their goals and motivation fit the story.  I can't do that without knowing where I'm going.  But the plot does not rule; if something does not fit, it is changed.

Could I start with the characters and seeing where the story leads?  Sure I could but what I've found is that wastes time.  It's like writing an essay (or a blog post) where you don't know what your point is.  Generally, you figure that out by the end of the piece and then go back and revise.  While that approaches is workable in something short, like an essay, or a blog post, or even a short story, I find it is not a feasible approach in a novel that is hundreds of pages long.  It is much better for me to know where the story is going so I can take the reader there.

That also does not mean, I've plotted out all the details.  Far from it.  I've only got the basic points down so that the characters can tell me things I didn't know in the process of writing.  In this way I can still surprise myself in the early drafts.

This, of course, is not the only way to go about writing a story, but it seems to work for me and the way I think.  I doubt it will work for anyone else, but you are all free to try it if you wish.

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