As a writer taking a rather unique path, I often receive a wide range of questions. So far, I’ve covered some broad topics which you can find here and I’ll continue to shed some light on further questions. With luck, you’ll gain some understanding and insight along the way.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, feel free to comment or drop me an email.
Does the plot come first, or is it the characters?
Any book a writer considers has some kind of premise. For example: A boy that grew up with unfortunate circumstances in the human world is admitted to a wizardry school. Or: An unpopular, high school outcast with the power to move things with her mind is tormented by her peers.
But those examples aren’t the actual plot. The plot is the chapters that take readers from beginning, middle, climax, and resolution. You don’t know how that boy finds out he’s a wizard or what awaits him. You don’t know what that girl’s peers do to her or what happens if they go too far.
Furthermore, those example don’t specify, in detail, who those characters are. We don’t know Harry Potter is actually a good, kind-hearted kid that tries to do the right thing. We don’t know that Carrie is abused by her devout mother and yet she still wants to be accepted by everyone.
To me, the best books are made by establishing the core of it first. In other words, give the book a heart — its soul.
What is a book’s soul? It could be the underlying lesson or a feeling. In Maggie Stiefvater’s now defunct live-journal blog, she once wrote that the heart of her YA paranormal romance, Shiver was a feeling. More than anything else, she wanted readers to feel bittersweet. If anything in her book threatened that heart, she was willing to cut it out.
If you know the soul of the book you’re wanting to write, the characters and plot become a close second. There could be a fantastic plot with all sorts of page-turning surprises, but if readers cannot empathize and care for your characters, then it’s all for nothing.
In my experience, as the plot develops and evolves, it’s important to flesh out the characters — the protagonist, antagonist, supporting roles, etc. And as those are created, it’s important to give them life with their own motivations and back stories.
Readers need to want those characters to succeed in their goals. The more readers are invested in both the story and its characters, the more that book’s soul will resonate with them.
Coming up, I’ll tell you about the risks I’ve taken with my books and whether I have any regrets.
Until next time,
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