Which Came First?

Just as there are endless possibilities for a story, poem or novel, the way a writer approaches their writing and develops the work can be equally varied. LitKicks member only-me posed this question:

“I sat down at my computer recently with the intention of writing a short story. I had no idea what it would be, I wanted to take an image and see where the thing went, where I took it.

Before I could start, a thought struck me and I ended up developing it into a piece of non-fiction.

The thought was what comes first — the story or the characters? Do the characters create the story themselves or are they merely pawns pulled together and molded as the story forms itself? I’m intrigued by how different people approach their work.

Do you imagine a character first and shape a story around that character, or fit suitable characters into a story you’ve created? Maybe the two are inseparable in your imagination. Or do you never even consider this and let them create each other?”

10 Responses

  1. get ‘er done !95% of the
    get ‘er done !

    95% of the time, I think of a concept or situation, then build the characters and plot around it. Like, in Buckethead, I imagined, for some reason, a guy with a plastic bucket melted over his head – a sort of flat-headed Frankenstein-like dude who would be a killer like Freddie Kruger or Michael Meyers. So then I had to decide how he got the bucket on his head and who he would kill. The logical step was, he would kill those responsible for turning him into a monster, and all those teenager/slasher movies seemed like a fun thing to parody.

    First I write the story almost as if I were telling it to someone, with little regard for style. This prevents writer’s block. I just want a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then I go back and re-read it, editing as I go. I rewrite many times over. Every story in my chapbook has been rewritten & edited at least five times and a couple of them as many as ten times.

    Having said that, I will point out that the longer I write, the more accustomed I am to getting some style right the first time. It’s kind of like a mechanic putting up various tools when he is finished with them, as opposed to leaving them all scattered about until the end of the day. You learn to do yourself a favor by getting it right the first time. But you don’t sweat over it too much, or the writer’s block might return; like a mechanic can’t spend all his time putting away tools.

    Another thing I’ve found is that it’s okay to begin a story with what I had planned to be somewhere in the middle. I seem to always come up with scenes which I think would be good in a story, and then try to figure out how to lead up to that scene. Sometimes it’s hard to organize the plotline, and especially difficult to begin the story in a way that will hold the reader’s attention. That’s when I put that scene at the beginning. I can always go back and show what led up to it.

  2. Chapter 6: FlakesExcerpt from
    Chapter 6: Flakes

    Excerpt from Floor of the Damned: An Untitled Meta-Novel…

    “There was a snow globe on the table,” she recalled. “I shook it, and the flakes began to fall. Outside, I mean. It was really snowing. That’s fuckin’ crazy, when you consider it was July. Well… Not exactly. I mean, it might have been October or November. And technically I guess it wasn’t real snow either. But you understand what I mean. Fuckin’ weird, don’t you think?”

    For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write about meeting a woman in a psych ward. Not just any woman, but the perfect mate. I mean, the fact that we’re both institutionalized implies some serious common ground, don’t you think? But here’s the twist: She’s completely normal. I mean, far less crazy than anyone you might encounter on the outside. She’s intelligent, reflective, empathetic… No visible tics whatsoever. We pass the time playing chess, reading poetry to each other, and discussing mathematics (or philosophy, which she recognizes as the same thing). Through locked windows, we watch it snow when it’s winter and rain when it’s not. The perpetual precipitation — that’s a metaphor, symbolic of our moods or something. In fact, maybe this woman is even a doctor who’s fallen off the edge. Fine line between genius and insanity, they say. “But there is no line,” she revealed. It’s a cavernous gray region of overlap, any part of which might be interpreted differently depending on the day’s light (or lack thereof). Genius is simply making connections that others miss — seeing relationships a “rational” individual would never consider. Insanity is… Well, the same thing.

    Actually I did write that story. Unfortunately, I let the character dictate the flow, and she did what she had to do. Killed herself before I really got to know her. That’s the problem with “real” characters. They take over. Doesn’t matter what the author wants. I mean, she wasn’t even aware there was an author.

    “And I am,” she observed. “Aware, that is.” (This isn’t the mental patient. This is the character wearing the cheerleader uniform in Chapter 2.)

    “But not too aware.”

    “No, of course not,” she agreed. “That would be too circular (and confusing to the reader). But whether October or November, you understand what I mean… Fuckin’ weird, don’t you think?”

  3. It varies I worry a lot more
    It varies

    I worry a lot more about how I am going to portray a character than the details of the story. Usually since it is either based on a real person, or inspired by, if it’s a fictional character. I wrote a story once about being disappointed with how small towns are going under, being paved for Wal-marts and big construction. I constructed a character called “Brave Wing” who doesn’t even exist in real life, but was based on people I knew in real life, from friends to my grandpa. Whenever a story has a remote base in reality, I always try to shape the character correctly first and then the story follows. When it’s nonfiction, you usually already have the story and characters but sometimes you add a few things in that weren’t there, or change character traits so it may become fiction. If your story is competely fiction, sometimes the story is there first, and then you can have fun and create wacky characters as your details flow along.

  4. A begininng & an EndI
    A begininng & an End

    I usually have an interesting idea I’ve at least filed away in my head, or written whatever has come to me in the moment, an inspiration flash. Then if I can find what the begininng & the end are I can write it, I figure if you know what the end is, the middle will work itself out as you get there. & when I get the idea I usually know what it’s going to be a short story or a novel, it’s almost if they already exist somewhere else & I just tap into it & take it from there. Is that plagarism? Stealing from the Universal Mind? Or is meant to be taken?

  5. What I think is…I’d like to
    What I think is…I’d like to read the whole story!

    Fine line between genius and insanity, they say. “But there is no line,” she revealed.


    I mean…insane!

  6. I’d have to agree with your
    I’d have to agree with your theory.

    If a story is fiction then you have some idea of the story in mind, but if it is non-fiction you already know the story and the characters as well. The plot thickens when you have to try and get all your facts and placements and characters correctly in line for each stage like writing a play.
    Placement and time come into focus.
    Well you said it better than I could. Thanks…lol.

  7. Beatvibe, you take
    Beatvibe, you take storytelling to another level! Damn well weaved, this is. Telling about what you want to write and then it loops into the story which loops into reality, and…I dig it…it’s all the story…or is it all reality:::

  8. Well, they say there are a
    Well, they say there are a limited number of themes and that all stories are variations on those themes, some more obvious than others. But I know what you mean. Sometimes a story seems to write itself. When that happens, I hope I’m not dredging something up out of someone else’s swamp. I guess those are the stories that become classics, because the are timeless.

  9. Tell the tale & tell it
    Tell the tale & tell it well

    I always advise: what do you want to say? Orwell says to let the meaning choose the words. Robert Stone says to entertain, tell the tale and tell it well. Mamet’s characters come to life via their dialog, which I explained better in another post.

    With my own stuff, there’s a main character surrounded by flat characters which I want to change in my next projects. Also, in my last project which isn’t completely done, I wrote notes in some parts to finish up later. I don’t really like it and what I’ve started is a genuine departure from what I’ve done before. Cheers.

  10. Adapting to CharactersI
    Adapting to Characters

    I typically adapt from older, well-known stories into modern ones. and, doing so, I wrap and warp the original story around new characters, sometimes inspired by friends, and usually genderfucked or queered in some way. I find it interesting to contrast the characters in the originals with the new characters assuming the old roles.

    However, it’s not that simple. it’s like the chaos butterfly effect: a small change in a character, like s/he wants to do something differently, can cause a huge change in the story later on.

    So story, then character (possibly born outside the story), then new story. which, in turn, can affect the characters again, into the next draft….

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