What comes first?

April kicks off two separate short story writing competitions for me. So, I started going through my folder of ideas and characters and it struck me the varied ways stories come.

It made me wonder. Which comes first for you, as an author?

The story idea?

Or the Characters?

For me, it has come both ways. For my short story, “Maggie,” the characters came first, then the story idea followed.

For “Obsessed,” the story idea came first and the characters followed.

Is there any right or wrong way? Absolutely NOT! It is exactly the same concept with songwriting. Sometimes the melody comes first and the lyrics follow. Other times, the lyrics come and the melody follows. But, on rare occasions, both the melody and lyrics come together hand-in-hand.

That’s when there is magic!

And when the magic happens, the readers feel it. Or, in the case of music, the listeners.

In the first Creative Writing class I ever took, the professor asked the question, “What does every human have in common?”

Of course, the answers were that we breathe air, we drink water, we have to eat and require sleep. He agreed with all those answers, but he said the one characteristic that every human being possesses is the innate desire to feel something. The answers to “feel what?” are as varied as there are individuals. But, the desire to feel is present in everyone in some form or fashion.

As writers, it is our job to make sure that happens with our stories.

But, I’m curious. Which comes first for you? The story idea? Or the characters? Or, like with me, does it vary?

21 thoughts on “What comes first?

  1. I’m pretty much a concept person. I get an idea, but then the characters immediately follow, even before the plot is fleshed out. I think it’s because, for me, characters and plot are so closely intertwined. I can’t develop one without the other. But I seldom, if ever, start with a character first.

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  2. Mine never seem to do the same thing twice. I find it easier when the character shows up first. I also get a lot of vignettes. Meaning a scene takes place with nameless and faceless characters. It isn’t a story, or even a plot. Then I find characters and dwell on it for a while. Sometimes it can expand into a story.

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    1. That’s really cool, Craig. The vignettes are kinda like dreams with no faces in them. I can see where they could grow and develop into stories once the characters take on faces. Thanks for weighing in!

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  3. For me it’s almost always the characters. And with them come emotions. I like how you zeroed in on that in your post because emotions are what drive my characters. Every once in a great while I might get a plot idea without characters but that’s a rarity. Great post, Jan!

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    1. I love that, Mae! I have enjoyed all of your characters and their emotions in the stories I’ve read. You do a great job! Thanks so much for weighing in. This has been an interesting discussion! Happy Sunday!

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  4. I love this post which caused me to think about how I come up with story ideas. It is often an event first and then build characters around it.

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  5. Jan, an interesting post and I would say I’m the same as you! Somehow the main character/s are intrinsically linked to the story. After that other characters are added and the story adjusted! I’m taken with your writing class and conversation about feelings – a very good point! Without thinking about it we put these at the core of our writings! Love, hate, jealousy, sadness, joy, fear … they are pivotal! Reading your post has made me want to just write and write! Inspiring post. Wishing you a lovely Sunday! Happy Writing! 😀🌺

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  6. I can’t wait to read your stories, Jan. I know they will be delicious. 🙂 As for me, I think the story comes first, though the story is alive with characters. 🙂

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  7. Great discussion Jan. I would have to say both but I lean towards the idea over characters. Good point we need to feel too. Best of luck on both of your writing projects!

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