Which came first; the character or the story?

Three questions to ask before you start writing

In my opinion, one of the best parts of writing is creating characters. I have heard it said before that the best way to create a fictional character is to take a piece of yourself and develop it. I have always liked that thought—that my characters are simply different pieces of myself. And if that’s the case, if my characters all make up me, then my story should reflect my inner turmoil. It should be a way to process emotions. I think any good story is simply a reflection of the author’s soul. The characters are how the author’s personality navigates the soul.

When it comes to creating characters, it can often be tricky. Determining whether or not to write the character or the plot first is like trying to determine whether the chicken or the egg came first; there isn’t really a right answer. With every story, there is a character. There has to be. And with every character, a story. It is the story that feeds that character, but the character who lives the story. I think that, in a lot of ways, the two come simultaneously.

That’s not to say that the character and the plot won’t need tweaking upon conception. I started writing my book in 7th grade, nearly 7 years ago. The story had evolved and changed. And though my main character still goes by the same name, her personality has grown too. I think that every character, from the moment the idea is born, has a story to tell. And, likewise, every story created has a narrator. It’s up to the writer to listen, to create, to write, and to edit. It is the author who makes it flow.

As a writer, I know firsthand that this can be a frustrating process. So, here are 3 questions every writer should ask when they first begin a story.

Who is the main character?

This isn’t just about what the character’s name is. Who are they? When were they born (and why is it pertinent)? At what age are they when the story begins? Do they live with their parents and attend high school, or do they spend hours working in a sweatshop to provide food for their kids each night? What is their happiest memory? Their saddest memory? The first step is knowing the main character as if they were your best friend.

Why does it have to be your character in this story?

Someone once told me that a story a character could walk away from is a story a reader can walk away from. And I think it’s true. Why is this story relevant to the character? How is this story developing and growing the character?

For example, my favorite TV show is How I Met Your Mother. Especially when it comes to character development, this show is an amazing example of writing. The premise is that Ted Mosby (main character) wants a family. He wants to get married and have kids. He goes through nine seasons trying to find ‘the one’ so that he can have this life. He gets left at the altar and watches the person he thinks is ‘the one’ marry someone else. He watches his best friends live the life he always wanted. A family is his dream. It isn’t something he can walk away from, and that’s what makes it a compelling story.

What is the end goal?

In my opinion, this is the most important part of writing: knowing how it ends. There are so many stories that start off great. But, as a series goes on, there are times when it is clear that the writer never expected it to get this far. The writer never planned past one book or one season or one movie. Don’t be that writer. Plan ahead and make an outline. The ending is the most crucial part because that’s what the story leads up to.

Will the main character sacrifice their life in a tragic ending? Will the character find a family? What about the villain? Does the villain get a redemption arc, or will they die a gruesome death? Who wins?

Knowing this will change how you write the story. It gives you the ability to foreshadow. You can better know what to introduce and when. If, in the end, you know that the character needs to find and destroy Horcruxes to defeat Voldemort, you can begin setting the stage for this in the first book. Write with the end in mind.

But, even as you go through this, keep in mind that you don’t have to know everything. At some point, you just have to sit down and write. You will never write a perfect story. But, planning these three things out in advance will be beneficial to your story.

Just keep writing, friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s