Monthly Archives: July 2012

What comes first? Character or Plot?

When your short story or novel idea first comes to light in your mind, what started it? A character? Plot? Or a combination of the two? Or something else?

I’ve had all four occur. The origin of my four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point – “Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace,” “Digging Up the Dirt” and “Road Raging” was definitely the female private investigator Dana Bowman. Her initial name was “Sheila” but I soon changed that because it was close to my first name, “Sharon.” Dana popped into my head before all these short stories, for a novel (now in a rewrite; it’s a prequel to these short stories). When that happens you have to find your plot. I like to take something that is going on in the world and use that as part of the plot. These stories occur in 1999 (the novel is set in 1998) so it has to be something pertinent to then. For example, there were no Blackberrys, iPhones, or Facebook, but there was the Internet (albeit mostly dial-up) and cell phones. The idea is to connect the “world situation” to the character and develop your plot. And bring in more characters.

If the plot idea occurs first, like it did in my story “No Breaks,” you need to develop the right characters to work your plot. The situation here is what would happen if you are driving along the highway and your brakes fail? And no “breaks” in the title isn’t a misnomer – it has to do with the main character I developed.

As you can see, plot and character are closely connected – the character and his or her traits drive the plot, but the plot also drives the character. What if the character and plot surface at the same time? Then you are truly blessed. However, if you are busy doing something else then, make sure you write the idea down (pen and paper, iPad, etc.) so the plot and character don’t disappear into the nether areas of your mind.

The “something else” is an extension of plot and character coming at you simultaneously. The difference here is you are actually sitting down to write – on paper or at your computer. It is called freefall writing where you start with a word, a phrase, a sentence, a vision, an emotion, a situation (or the start of one) and just sit and write whatever flows from your brain to your hands. You do not stop writing to make changes. This always happens to me when I attend a Brian Henry writing workshop (see Brian gives us a few words, a situation, and gets us writing – then and in our lunch hour. In the afternoon we critique each other’s work. From there we take our story home, finish writing it and revise it. Some of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point – “For the Love of Wills,” “The Body in the Trunk,” and “Missing in Action” started this way, although I suspect something to do with each was hidden in my brain somewhere. Try it; you might be surprised at the results.


Sharon A. Crawford


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Making your fiction characters credible

I’m reading through the proofs of my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point before Blue Denim Press sends it to print. This time I’m only looking for typos – spelling errors, spacing problems, punctuation snafus, and the like. I’ve done several rewrites at the publisher’s request. Hopefully the characters and their plots in life are consistent and make sense – bearing in mind that these characters often do the unthinkable –murder, sexual assault, cause explosions, perform an indignity to a dead body, even fall in love. But like all characters in fiction or real life, what they do has some meaning and motivation – even if only clear in their minds.

So, how can you make your characters credible?  In a nutshell:

Make your characters three dimensional. There is more to a character than his or her looks and dialogue. A character has feelings, likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies, flaws, strengths, baggage, etc. Your reader must connect to your characters – not necessarily like them. Superficial characters won’t come across as credible people. In my story, “Saving Grace,” (Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, due out fall 2012), the main character Dana Bowman is a private investigator. But she is also divorced and the mother of a seven-year-old son, David who was kidnapped the previous year. Dana has to deal with the repercussions of the kidnapping, including a David who won’t talk but throws tantrums, her own guilt about the kidnapping and not “saving David” from the aftermath. She is also stubborn and can get sarcastic. All this she brings to any missing person she has to find – in this case the eight-year old Grace. So she won’t “do everything right.”

Your characters’ dialogue and actions must be believable within the story’s context and genre. For example, in science fiction or fantasy, what the characters say and do will be based on the story line (think space trips for science fiction or dragons for fantasy).

Their dialogue and actions must be believable based on who they are – what their traits are. For example, a shy character isn’t going to suddenly speak up unless he or she has to change for a reason. A shy mother finally works up the courage to speak up for her child who is autistic and isn’t receiving the necessary support at school. There has to be a trigger point – some event – that forces the mother to overcome her shyness and speak up because she loves her child. Love of her child plus the event will motivate the mother to speak up.

You need to make what could be seen as unbelievable, credible. That means good character development and plot development.

I’ll be covering those in future postings.


Sharon A. Crawford


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