Do you start with a character or a plot?
Both. Some stories start with “what if” questions that generate plot and then flesh out characters. For example: what if a small town experienced their first flood in 100 years? And what if no one could get in to help them? What if the Police Chief and the Mayor were killed in the flood and no one was in charge? What if a single mother and the town’s black sheep teamed up to save everyone they could? From there, the characters begin to flesh out and conflicts arise.
Other stories are the opposite. What if a single mom, timid and shy, was involved in a catastrophe and people looked to her for help? I’d continue to work on her as a character until the catastrophe revealed itself.
Incidentally, the two stories would likely be wildly different.
For me, the spark of inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s a character, other times it’s a setting, then there are the rare opportunities where a plot will present itself to me before anything else. I’m flexible. My favorite writing prompts are the ones that give you a phrase, “You look through the camera lens and…” Those kind of open ended thoughts drive me wild with ideas for stories. The craziest thing is that I could read that prompt every morning and write something new for it each day. My mood affects my writing. How dark it is, how romantic, how mysterious, how funny….all these elements are subjective to my mindset that particular day. On days where I need help, looking up images online can strike like lightning and send story ideas zinging through my brain.
Neither, I guess. Story ideas usually come to me as a scene fragment or a moment of dialog between two people in an emotionally charged moment. I’ll journal about it and think for anywhere from a few hours to a few days as their relationship and the conflict develop. I do a lot of prewriting and, for me, the plot unfolds along with the scope of the story. Often, I’ll be ten to twenty thousand words into a novel before I’ll stop and plan how to get the characters from there to the end of the story.
Character. It starts with a person, then that grows into a scene, blossoms into a plot and finally reveals the story. This happens 98% of the time. There are the rare occasions when a plot seed implants itself in my subconscious and I have to run with it. Then I must create the details to paint the whole picture. Sexy men are always good inspiration to jumpstart a story.
Either or neither or both at the same time. I have some kind of story stew in my head that I stir around for days, weeks, or maybe for just a moment. Usually it involves a character doing something. If it intrigues me enough, I’ll actually start putting it into words, otherwise I’ll leave it as an image in my head until I feel I’m familiar enough with both the characters and their intentions in order to write it.
Plot. I must first define what is going to happen before I can decide who will be in the story. If I create the characters first, they wander aimlessly around in my head. They are amorphous, genderless, and silent. Without plot, my characters have no purpose. I do not know who they are until I know what will happen to them.