Character or Plot?

Guest blog by author, Gillian St. Kevern

This is a misleading question. You cannot have a plot without character, and even the most compelling character in the world can’t hold attention unless they do something – and that involves a plot. When talking to other writers, I’m always really curious to know how their current project came about. What came first: An idea, a what if, a situation that immediately suggests a plot? Or a character that taps them on the shoulder, and says ‘Hey, hi, you’re writing about me now.’

I’m sure that genre also plays a part in where on the plot/character spectrum a story or author falls. Mystery might be more plot driven, and romance led by character. For me, no matter what I write, it starts with a character that I want to know more about. I kind of have a sense of the personality and how they might react in a particular situation or interact with someone of a different personality type.

From there, I can generally figure out a situation and setting that would play nicely into these character dynamics. And then, my next step is to figure out my character arc, which I do by figuring out what my character wants more than anything else, what flaw is preventing them from ever having that, their worst fear and their potential. From there, I tend to work on the love interest (where applicable), the antagonist and hashing out the major plot points (I highly recommend James Scott Bell’s excellent book Write Your Story From the Middle).

Most of my books are series. This is not always intentional. What happens is that, while writing a book, a side character refuses to shut up. This seems to be a serial problem that romance writers have: side-characters who demand romances of their own. My problem is that every time I write a story in my gothic romance series, I come away with fodder for at least three books – mostly because in the course of the story, a character will do something that demands further exploration – plot-first – or is just so interesting, I want to know more about them – character first. Sometimes a character does so appalling that you know there are going to be consequences – plot and character first. I think it’s really important to allow characters to have that autonomy. In fact, I never really feel that I’m on the right track with a story until the characters have thrown me at least one curveball.

So, how to balance organic character development and change with the need to plot and stick to an outline? Yeah, that is a question for the ages and one that I’m still working on. Just like every writer approaches writing and plotting differently, the balance they strike between plot and character and allowing both room to grow and influence will be different. However, there is this writers have in common: no matter where on the plot or character spectrum we pitch our flags, we, the authors, in reality have no control over any of this. The characters are in charge.

Send help.

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Gillian St. Kevern (she/her)author photo of gillian st kevern I realised I wanted to be an author when, as a teenager, I found myself getting annoyed that the characters in the books I read weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. Now that I’m a writer, they still don’t. I write a variety of genres, ranging from short and silly contemporary romances to urban fantasy and mystery. My current project is the Read by Candlelight series of gothic romances inspired by the works of M R James, J S Le Fanu and the Brontë sisters.

Visit her Website here.

Gillian will be reading some fictional horror during the hour titled ‘The Queer Character Doesn’t Die in the End’ (Reading B1). Check out the full IQARUS schedule HERE.