Plot or character in romance novels. Which comes first?
Plot or character? Which comes first? It’s a interesting question. You could throw location into the mix as well. I’m not sure it’s a given as to which comes first. A lot of it depends on what kind of a writer you are. And where you usually get your inspiration from.
If you are open to ideas you know that they come like bolts of lightning, like soft mists that creep up upon you unawares, like the jangling, harsh cacophony of a fairground – garish, multicoloured and noisy. And sometimes they are overheard in quiet conversations at a hospital, in a bus, at a restaurant. They are half-remembered dreams, or parts of your own past that you need to write out to find some kind of sense in them, some reason, some revenge.
Then there are the times when you are half-dozing in a tour bus that, as it rambles down a country lane, passes an old, large, blackened ruin of a manor house whose top floor has burned. And you ask yourself, why? Who set the fire? A mad wife locked in the attic?
Plot Or Character – Which Comes First In A Romance Novel
Entwined Like Rope
For me, plot and character are as tightly entwined as rope, especially in a romance novel. They are cords of the same inspiration. While I am thinking of plot, I am also thinking of the characters the plot needs to drive it forward.
Start With Characters
Plot without character is meaningless. Or Proustian, depending on your point of view. It’s characters that brings plot to life. Characters without plot are as dull as cardboard cut-outs. We may be inspired by one of the silent majority we see on the underground because of a quirk she has – a ferret, dyed pink, curled up around her top hat, for example. But unless the ferret gets loose and runs amok through the train and is rescued by the cute, time-travelling vet who sports a six-pack and a monocle, there is no story. Did we start with character or plot? There’s barely a knife blade space between the two.
Start With Plot
On the other hand you could start with a big plot – Hospital trains for example. On the surface that doesn’t sound like a plot. But you need to start somewhere. These trains first ran in the American Civil War, then in World War I and again in World War II. They’re still running now, in war and peace.
Within these closed environments, romance is bound to bloom – nurses, doctors, orderlies, wounded soldiers. It would be odd if romance didn’t blossom. Almost immediately you can see the need to populate the train with characters before you go any further.
Find Them Both At The Crossroads
There are three ways to write a book.
- Find the plot, ignore character details until you have the plot secure. Then revisit the grey ghosts of your characters and give them form, mould them to the requirements of the plot.
- Create your characters with no thought to what you will be putting them through. Then put them somewhere and create circumstances that will show their best and worst sides.
- Ask yourself one question, a plot question – the ‘What if’ Counter it with one character question – ‘Who would?’ It’s a bit like playing chess. At each step the character moves, evolves, dies, steps into play. And each step is dictated by plot.
This is, I suspect, how I write. Once I reach the Chapter 6 or 7 stage, I must know what the ending of the book will be. And yes, that’s plot. But I also have a very good notion of who the characters will need to become to satisfy the plot’s ultimate ending. I find the book at the crossroads of plot and character.
The Last Word
If you have always wanted to learn how to write a book, how plot and character make you book a thing of beauty, then sign up for a course with Writers Write It’s the perfect place to learn.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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