Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ask the Authors: Thursday

Which element do you usually begin with: plot, character, theme, or setting?

Usually the character but sometimes an event. Reading a diary entry about 11 wagons turned around on the Oregon Trail, all driven by women because their husbands had died, made me wonder about what happened; and what it would take to allow someone to help them in their grief and perhaps find a new direction. That became a series about those 11 women which then drove the story, though I suppose it was also the theme, about finding new direction when life as you know it has ended. -Jane Kirkpatrick

It varies, depending on the book. The idea that drops into my brain may contain the seed of any one of these. But because my novels are more character-driven than plot-driven, I usually begin with the main character and/or the time and place (e.g. World War II, Japanese internment camps). Plot and theme then follow. -Ann Tatlock

As I mentioned the other day, if any one of those four show up, I’m happy to wait on the others. –Angela Hunt

Usually a plot idea (as in Sins of the Fathers--what if a 13 year old shot up a baseball game?) which I start to flesh out with characters; or a character (as in Presumed Guilty -- what would a pastor's wife do if her husband was accused of sexual indiscretions and murder?) and then think of making the situation as troubling as possible. Theme I never think of until the book is almost finished, and I hear what it's trying to tell me. Setting is usually L.A., which offers more than enough good stuff. - James Scott Bell

Character. Always. Nothing else happens until I know--and I emphasize know--my leading characters. -BJ Hoff

Varies depending on the idea. -Rene Gutteridge

Plot. Some crazy premise comes to mind, a la my answer to the first question. -Brandilyn Collins

I break the rules and start with theme. The most popular answer to this question is probably “character,” but I find myself much more interested in exploring ideas as they relate to people, so I start with the ideas and make up people and situations to fit what I want to think about. I know, I know . . . the plot and theme ought to be “organic” and rise up from the interaction of the characters. Flannery O’Connor wouldn’t speak to me, God rest her soul. It’s a wonder
anybody reads my books. -Athol Dickson

Although I write character-driven novels, I do almost always start with a rough plotline––usually something taken from current news headlines––and then invent a character to live through the dilemma. -Deborah Raney

Character first, set up next--I wouldn't go so far as to call it an actual plot, more of a "what if" scenario. -lisa samson

Each book starts in its own way, and so much of it happens in my subconscious it's hard to pinpoint what comes first. Again, that's the intuitive writer in me. I "feel" when things are right. I think I most often begin with character, with theme following close on its heels. Sometimes they are reversed. I rarely begin with plot. -Robin Lee Hatcher

Character is always first. Setting is a close second. The plot then develops from the characters. And I often don't know what the theme is until I'm 2/3 of the way through the book. It emerges, like a figure walking toward me through the mist. -Liz Curtis Higgs


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Nice post, everyone. I love reading about writers!


At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intriguing. Naturally I tried to answer this one for myself. *s*

I find it difficult to separate character from plot when attempting to answer which comes first (theme grows from the story--usually multiple themes--and even if I think I know what it/they will be when I start out, I'm often dead wrong).

I begin with a what-if sitution and setting (currently: what if a young man travels south to become his slave-owning uncle's heir, and discovers one of those slaves is also his kin?). What happens next depends completely on what sort of fellow this young man is. But I can't know this young man until I begin to write him doing something. Thinking about him, living with him in my mind, is a lot like hearing about an intriguing person second hand. But when I begin to write him into a setting, give him a task, dialogue, interaction with other characters, then it's like meeting him face to face for the first time. He surprises me, and says things I don't expect.

So for me plot and character grow together. I do need to know something about a character's situation, even if what I first write him or her doing ends up occuring in the middle of the book.

Interesting question. Great to read all the varying responses. I hope other writers will chime in, too. The more the merrier!


At 5:45 PM, Blogger Carol Umberger said...

Okay, Lori. I'll chime in. I usually start with a character. I need to know that character's goal --what he/she wants; his motivation--why he wants it; and the conflict--what or who stands in the way of acieving the goal. The plot just naturally develops from answering those questions and from the character's decisions as he tries to achieve his goal.



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