Develop Characters and Wing the Plot, or Vice-Versa?

Would you rather fully develop the characters and wing the plot with no editing, or vice-versa? The first draft of my WIP started with reasonably-developed characters and only a vague hint of a plot. That didn’t work well for me. I’m used to working with strucure.

At the very least my main character needed to have a clearly-defined goal. I needed to have some well-defined obstacles standing between her and the goal. It’s not exactly a plot, but it gives her something to do and me something to write toward. I can ramble and write literary-fiction style with that minimum amount of structure.

Without that, the first draft felt forced. I kept coming up with things that were happening to her, and at her, instead of allowing her to drive the action. It’s patterned after a Bronte-esque Gothic novel, granted. The stories of Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw are largely about things that happened to them, rather than the consequences of choices they made. To make it work the way I want it to, I need to subvert that.

Wing the Plot

If I were writing genre fiction — fantasy, science fiction, horror, “men’s adventure”, and so on — I would go plot-forward. The characters would be fairly static, with one or two defining traits and no real arc. They’d have a role to play to move the story forward, and they’d do that. Plot drives character actions. That’s a whole other type of writing. I’ve written that sort of book before. This WIP is intended to be different. I’m shooting for a more literary feel, unlike what I’ve done before.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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