What comes first plot or characters?

It's a question that I often get asked when I give talks and readings and it's a difficult one to answer or at least to explain. The two are so interlinked that it is impossible to say, well for me at least. This week has been a fairly clear week so I thought I'd crack on with the new Inspector Horton novel. The idea for the novel came easily, based on something I'd been told - more than that I can't say otherwise I'll give the game away. Beginning to turn the idea into a workable plot started well until about chapter six. Then I knew that before I could continue I needed to do more research and development on my characters. Until you have interesting characters then there is no plot, or it is weak or fizzles out. Why? Because characters drive the plot, it is their emotions and reactions that make the story. But you can't let them run around willy nilly otherwise your book would be wandering all over the place. You need a plot. So as you can see plot and characters often develop together or rather you can't have one without the other - bit like that song really, how does it go..."love and marriage... go together like a horse and carriage..."

When I get stuck I always know it is because I haven't done enough work on my characters. So it's been back to the paper and pencil this week to map out who they are, why they are the way they are, their motivations and personalities and how this drives them to do the things they do in the book. I find it all incredibly fascinating.

Of course I do some of this research before starting the novel but at that stage, although the characters might look fully formed on the paper, I know they are not. For me they don't really come alive until I begin to put dialogue into their mouths, so I have to start writing the novel even though I might have huge gaps in the plot at that stage. Then, after a while, it's back to the plot again and more research on the characters, (the paper and pencil bit) before refining the plot and then continuing with the creative writing process on the computer screen. And, of course, in a crime novel you also need to make sure the clues, red herrings or pink elephants (as my husband, Bob, likes to call them) are all in place. But I'll leave that for another day. Back to the novel. Now if only I could work out who done it!


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