“Sometimes, there’s a man, and he’s the man for his time and place”

Or, Characters Come First

I used to think that different stories came to me with different foci as their individual genesis—sometimes the situation, sometimes the character(s), sometimes just a single moment in the story that I had to build from forward and backward. 

I have changed my mind.  What comes first for me, always, are the characters. 

Sometimes the character might be built on a personality type, and other times the character is defined by his or her situation.  But the situations are never general situations.  They are always personal.  Always about one particular person caught in the specifics of that situation. 

I have been coming to this understanding of my own process since a few weeks back when I was trying to figure out what story to write next.  Looking over the notes I had made on prospective projects, what I kept seeing over and over again in search of that next story to write was that I didn’t have stories.  I had characters and their backstories.  I had interesting situations but no concrete idea what to do with them.

I ended up choosing the story that had the best backstory and easiest path of development into a plot, and didn’t think too much about the matter.

But in the back of my mind, those rudders kept churning.  This epiphany–that I start with characters and develop stories, and that I do not start with stories– just sort of hit me yesterday when I was looking at an outline, one of those moments of clarity where you just think Duh, yes, that’s EXACTLY what I do, and how did I never notice this before?

Indispensable self-knowledge. 

I have to understand my weaknesses in order to shore them up.  If I am forever trying to write stories about people in situations rather than stories about stories, then I need to be aware of that in how I plan…and in how I evaluate whether a “story” is developed enough to begin writing, or even worth telling at all.

I think subconsciously I’ve realized this, as I have always found writing without an outline (except jotting down a scene on a flash of inspiration) to be difficult to impossible.  Perhaps the outline was my way of making sure there was a story there, at all. 

I’m curious to see if outlining becomes easier for me, now that I realize what its true purpose is?

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