We’ve all heard about plotting vs pantsing but what gets overlooked is those of us who either start with a plot/world and those of us who start with character. Several of my writing friends always starts with character. I always start with a question that unravels into a plot and world.
There are pros and cons to both ways of writing. With plotting I’m rarely stuck on what to write next but my characters tend to be wooden and lacking in life. Whereas my friends have dynamic breathing characters that are wandering aimlessly for pages. Both are tough places to be. This is why having a critique partner that thinks differently than you can be super helpful.
I’ll be honest I’ve been stuck on a picture book for awhile now.
My struggle is I’m so used to starting with plot but this time I had a character. He’s grumpy, moody, and a riot to follow around. So I let him wander and tell me about his job for a whole picture book. My critique partners loved it until I pointed out that there wasn’t actually any story.
I needed to put my character into a story and I was stumped. Everyone I asked for a critique were coming up with a smile and shrug on what to do. Until I took it to my writing group. Let me say, if you don’t have a good writing group find one, or create one. They will save your writing butt regularly.
My group suggested I add a character, someone who clashes, won’t go away, and who is needed by my main character, whether he realizes it or not. My picture book was short only a few hundred words so I theorized what would happen if I turned my character loose into a chapter book or a middle grade book. I let myself try to plot. What would happen? I took what already was happening, what my character was telling me, and strung that out by chapters.
I took a second colored pen and then started putting in my new character. Adding conflict, reasons, and shenanigans. I did this multiple times with messy arrows, crazy ideas, and changes in structure. I let myself mess around with all of it. It was fun to let my character react in my head, to challenge him with new situations, and most of all to make him grumpy enough to do something.
Do you see it? I forced my character to have to react by finding the things that truly mattered to my character not the things I wanted to matter to fit a constructed plot.
I still have considerable revisions ahead of me and this maybe the most work I’ve ever put into a picture book. However, I’m having fun doing it this way with a character that’s fighting me and challenging me to find his story not to makeup something convenient.
How do you write? With plot, characters, or something else? Let me know in the comments below.