Janet Sumner Johnson
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Character Writer or Plot Writer

Nov 17, 2010 Uncategorized 24 comments

A few years back I went to a conference, and Shannon Hale asked this question of us: Are you a character writer or a plot writer? Do you come up with characters and then discover their story? Or do you think of a fascinating plot or situation and build from there?

At the time, I wasn’t sure. I debated the finer points of my writing style, but couldn’t decide. Now I laugh at myself for that.

I am a character writer all the way. I discover a character, and then I learn their story through painstaking effort. Painstaking, I tell you. I have to work hard for that plot.

So what are you?


24 Responses to “Character Writer or Plot Writer”

  1. MikeS says:

    I suppose plot, usually. I can't say that is always the case though. I've found a few interesting people in my brain, who's story I knew was out there somewhere. Usually these people are based on real life people or are composites of 2 or more people.

    But typically I start with a "what if" question and try to imagine the best people to handle that situation.

  2. I am character driven in my writing – but I do use the plot as a way to reveal character…if that makes sense!

  3. I am a plot writer. I know the type of story I feel like writing, the tone and the major events first. Characters kind of come as I go along.

  4. storyqueen says:

    I start with a premise/plot then I let the character reveal him/herself. (Otherwise, sometimes I kind of have no plot……..)


  5. Tracy says:

    I'm definitely a character writer. Though usually I have a major plot point that jumps out at me first…then a character jumps in my head volunteering to tackle it. From their on out it's their story.

  6. I think I'm a plot writer. I live for conflict and the characters reveal themselves by how they deal with it.

  7. Joanne says:

    Hm, interesting question. I usually start with a pivotal scene that challenges the character, then develop the character from there. So I start with plot, but use it to jumpstart my character writing.

  8. I'm definitely a character writer. Plot is always a struggle for me.

  9. Hmm, I'd say I'm a character writer. When I get ideas it is usually the MC who talks to me and tells me what's going on. I do have an idea of the plot, but it stems from that first dialogue.

  10. I am neither and both. What first comes to me is one or more scenes. The characters and plot both evolve out of the scenes – pretty equally. Upon occasion, they don't come equally, but sometimes it is the characters who come to me first and other times it is the story, but those cases are rare. I generally see both at once.

  11. Character, I think.

    Usually the character is sparked by a plot idea, but I don't really have a well-thought-out plot when I begin, so I really think that first draft is about getting to know my character.

    Great question! Whew! I had to think about it. 🙂


  12. Plot. I never develop a plot w/o developing characters, but that is usually what comes first.

  13. I never thought about it much, but framed that way, I'd say I was a plotter. I have the plot in mind and then go off to discover the characters who would work best within the plot.

  14. character all the way, almost detrimentally, i have trouble with plots

  15. Melissa says:

    Character writer for sure.

  16. I use plot points mainly to develop the character, so… I'm going to say character!

  17. Oh, I hear ya girl. I do the same thing. Oftentimes, I only have a name when I sit down to write. I discover everything from a name.

  18. It's interesting to read how other writers come up w/ their characters. I always feel that characters usually end up telling me what to do.

  19. Lola Sharp says:

    CHARACTER!!! I tried to write a story after having a fantastic plot idea, but no particular characters in mind. I tried to 'create' some characters and put them into the story/plot…and I tried creating NEW and different characters…awful. Painful. Impossible. I cannot write that way.

  20. Interesting question. I'd say for me, a little of both. Sometimes I have the characters first, other times I have the idea/plot.

  21. Character writer all the way! I build the plot around what they would do. It hurts me sometimes, but I can't help it. The characters draw me into books I'm reading, and it's the same in my writing!

  22. Character writer, but I need to know a little plot to help me help the character it seems.

  23. Such a tough question! Honestly, probably plot. I come up with a plot idea, and then the characters are there waiting for me. 🙂

  24. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you posted it. I don’t write right now – fulltime job, grad school, and a baby make writing just out of my reach for the moment, but I still get ideas and jot them down. Since this post, I have had three ideas: one is just a character, and I have no idea what to do with her; one is a scene, and I don’t even know if the main character is male or female or what is really happening around the scene; and the last one came to me as a sequence of three scenes where I have three well developed characters and the first half of the plot for a short story. I know I make more notes about plot than I do characters, but that might be because I’m already living with the characters and making up the plot for them.

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