The question in the title is like asking, which comes first, the chicken or the egg.
And yet readers always ask, how do you choose your characters and where do your story ideas/plots come from?
Every writer will answer differently. And sometimes they may hesitate because often characters and plot evolve simultaneously.
Yeah, it gets complicated.
For me, the characters come first. I first imagine a character and their personality. While psychiatrists have named a finite amount of personality types there’s no accounting for personal quirks, giving the writer an infinite choice.
Better writers than myself have have put finite numbers on plots. The usual list has 20 to 21 categories but I’ve also seen 36 listed. Go here to see a list of plots.
So how can writers come up with so many different stories with such a limited list of plots?
The characters of course! Okay, to be fair, settings, genre, and era can all be changed so they play a part too.
When I feel I know what makes my characters tick, I throw them into the worst possible scenario for their personalities and life situation – the plot. In other words, they often find themselves dealing with situations they normally try to avoid.
In my blog Tall Tales and Why I Write Historicals, I introduced you to my two grandmothers, both old-timey schoolmarms and give you a peak into How To Fell A Timberman came about as story.
You’ll see that that the characters did come first, the loggers and the schoolmarm especially. But you’ll also see that the stories I listened to at my grandmother’s knees influenced the plot. So like I said, answering which comes first the characters or the plot, is complicated.
So how about the rest of you writers? Do you invent characters for your plots or plots for your characters? And how many of you develop a story from family stories, news stories and such?