the chicken or the plot?

i was in the middle of doing some mundane work at work when a thought struck me down. it’s a question that’s been asked repeatedly and over and over and repeatedly again, but this time, i sat there and really pondered it. and then i posted that thought on twitter. because that’s how i roll.

mumfusa: WRITERS — do you come up with plot or character first? if character, do you just start writing scenes? how do you figure out his/her story?

linda_grimes: @mumfusa Characters, definitely. Then I just wait and see what they do to entertain me.

PattyBlount: @mumfusa ooo, good question. Plot or character. Almost like chicken or the egg? May be a blog post in here somewhere.

when i first read linda’s comment, i thought, “LUCKY. i wish i worked like that.” and then i came across patty’s comment, and i thought, “yeah but, i only have one MSS. i’m no expert. i have no evidence to write about.”

but then i thought some more. about both ladies’ words. and a chord struck within me. i may be tone deaf, but i can tell when something important hums across my wrinkled brain. like now, when all of a sudden i’m thinking about how i wrote my current MSS. and, in fact, i did start with the character. and moved forward from there.

and oh what a bumpy ride. i tried to push her in one direction, but my grad school mentors and workshop partners (oh how i miss them all) told me to simplify. too much was afoot. too much was amuck. and so i did. and, actually, i can’t even believe i’m about to write this because i can’t tell you how many times i’ve objected to hearing these words from other authors, but you could say i turned into a writer when i stopped to listen to her story. to hear what she had to say.

i guess it’s my quasi type A personality (i don’t mind letting others lead as long as i can maintain control over what i do), i was trying to maintain control of this situation. of the characters. and i think i still am. i’m having a hard time listening to the characters because i think I know best. but really, how do i know what’s best for someone else? i don’t. and i most likely never will. which is why i should trust the process.

but, wait, hold on. i don’t understand how to “follow my characters” because i’m the one writing the words. how do you lead and follow simultaneously?

what do YOU do? do you hang out with your character(s) and get to know them first? OR do you plop your character(s) into a scene and let them work their way through it? out of it? around it? and then let them hold the flashlight as they guide the way out of your brain and onto the page? OR do you start with the plot and only include those characters that can handle the twists and turns?

what’s a newbie to do?

2 thoughts on “the chicken or the plot?”

  1. Does it have to be an either/or? (I so often fall into this position that it becomes reality) To live in the possibility that there is a to and fro between what comes first, character and plot (notice I didn’t say “or”?) seems sometimes elusive but watch for it…

    1. i think you may be onto something. i think this is more of the reality of how my brain works. i start with a tidbit of a character trait and then a pinprick of a plot point and work my way forward. zigging and zagging between character and plot. perhaps this is why neither option seemed too clear to me — it’s because i use both.

      thanks for the thought provoking question. and WELCOME to my blog.

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