Never separate plot and character. As you decide on the book you want to write, you must consider them at the same time because you will want certain characters for the plot you are creating. Or a certain plot for the characters you have in mind.
Whichever you think of first, you must develop them together because there’s a synergy between these two elements of your story. You might think of a great story about a man who’s living alone in a mountain cabin and is visited by space aliens, but what’s he doing in that cabin? Why is he alone? How is he going to deal with little green men knocking on his door? And the larger question–is the reader going to believe his reactions?
Let’s consider the beginning of your thinking process and the steps you go through when you start a book.
Even if you’re a completely right-brained writer, and you work very intuitively, the steps are in there somewhere. You just might not consciously think about what they are.
Because I’m a very left-brained, or logical, writer, I can describe my primary considerations before I wrote my first werewolf book, KILLING MOON.
For years I had an idea in mind. What if a werewolf detective used his wolf senses to solve crimes? The main character Ross Marshall, came to me first. A macho werewolf filled with angst about his relationship to humanity.
His specialties are tracking missing persons and sneaking into environments where a man couldn’t easily go. But by the same token, he’s got the disadvantage of sometimes being a wolf at the wrong place and the right time.
Once I knew enough about Ross, I began plotting his story. In KILLING MOON, Ross is tracking a serial killer. He also wants to investigate his genetic heritage, which brings him into contact with the heroine, a physician who works at a genetics lab. She’s got her own problems because the lab is being sabotaged by someone. Ross and Megan are drawn to each other, but she knows there’s something strange about him, and he’s fighting his attraction tooth and claw because he doesn’t want to drag a woman into the kind of miserable life his mom led with his low-life werewolf dad.
Five years ago, Ross tore out the throat of a serial killer the police wouldn’t go after, and he’s sworn never to kill again. Then the killer he’s currently stalking captures Megan, and he’s forced to break his vow to save her life.
In my planning process, I gave my hero internal and external problems to solve. And I also designed a heroine with traits that pulled him toward her and at the same time pushed him away.
Once you have a basic idea, you need to decide on your focus. What kind of book are you writing? For example, I considered making KILLING MOON the first book in a detective series. Then I realized I’d be better off going with romantic suspense, since I wanted the romance to play a big part in the story. This meant I couldn’t keep the focus on Ross Marshall in subsequent books. But he could play a strong secondary role in other books about his brothers and cousins. And his cousin, Cole Marshall, is the hero of my recent indie release, DARK MOON.
Which do you usually think of first–plot or character? And why?
This is an enormous subject. More next time.
Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick