May 25

Characters or Story – Which Comes First?

Characters or story, which comes first?A number of articles about writing for children, and other genres suggest knowing your characters inside and out before beginning the story. In fact, information suggests that the author build the story around the characters once they are fully developed. While this is good advice, and many experienced authors recommend this technique, there are some authors who occasionally watch their characters unveil themselves right before their eyes.

This is such an interesting method of writing. Your character introduces himself and gradually reveals bits and pieces, and blossoms as the story moves along. Sometimes a story doesn’t begin with this intent, it just happens. This is known as the seat-of-you-pants method of writing.

You do need to be careful with this method though, you may lose track of all the bits and pieces that make up the character. So, a good way to keep track of those quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features is to note them on a separate page or character card as they become unveiled. You wouldn’t want your character to have brown eyes in one chapter and blue eyes in another – unless of course, it’s a science fiction or paranormal and part of the storyline.

So, is there a right or wrong answer to the question of which comes first, characters or story? That depends on the writer.

While it may be important to know your characters, and even have a family and background established for them, even if they are not used in the story, you can also become acquainted as you go along. As your story develops you may find out if the character is fearful in certain situations, or if he is heroic. Sometimes it’s impossible to know this about a person, let alone a character, until circumstances create the possibility of the question.

It is one’s environment and circumstances that help develop his or her characteristics, fears, hopes, and so on. The same holds true for your character.

Using an example: How would a child who never saw a mouse before react to one? There’s no way to answer that question until it happens.

So, having the story help develop the character can be a useful tool. But, again, be sure to keep track of all the new features your character unveils along the way.

I usually come up with the story idea before getting into the characters. Then I let the characters unfold and develop as I go along.

How do you write? Story first or characters?

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MORE ON FICTION WRITING

How Do You Make a Good Story Worth of Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just ABC
Is Your Manuscript Ready for Submission?

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Feb 22

Adding More Dimension to Your Story’s Characters

More dimension to your storyConnecting with a reader entails a couple of things, one of which is to have a fully developed protagonist. A crucial aspect of creating a real character is his/her interactions with the other characters in the story, and his/her reactions to other external influences. These reactions to external surroundings add layers to your protagonist.

To be able to write with this type of clarity and dimension for your protagonist, you need to know every detail of your protagonist’s character. An excellent way to do this is to create a character sheet.

Make note on your character sheet of every reaction and interaction your character has with another character. As with actual life, we interact differently with different people in our lives. A boy will not react to a friend the same way he does a brother. He will not react the same to a sister as he does a brother. The same holds true for all other relationships. All these different interactions help create a fully dimensional protagonist.

As you’re creating your story’s characters’ dynamics, keep in mind that all characters play a part in creating a realistic story, even in fantasy and sci-fi. What this means is that your protagonist needs a responsive partner or team member (character) when interacting, otherwise the interaction will feel one-sided and flat.

In order to create continuity of character traits for all characters, each character needs a character sheet. While for some this may seem tedious, it is well worth the effort. You may be three quarters through the book and can’t remember how character A interacted with character D. You won’t want to have to search through the story to find this little tidbit of information.

Also, keep in mind that each character will have his/her own motivation for actions and reactions. This is part of their character traits and should be listed on their character sheet.

It’s important to keep in mind that every action, reaction and interaction created in your story will not only develop the protagonist, but also the other characters in the story.

More on Fiction Writing

Character Sheets: Adding Dimension to Your Characters
Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory
Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just ABC

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