Monday, January 31, 2011

Which came first? The character or the plot?

Hi. Renee Ryan here. I’m in the beginning phases of a brand new novel and wanted to share part of my process with you. So, which comes first? The character of the plot? I should start by saying I love this phase of writing. The possibilities are endless. The story can go in any and all directions. So how do I go about creating a brand new story? Glad you asked.

I’m what writers call a character plotter. I need to know who will people my book before I can tackle the actual storyline, AKA the events. I always start with my hero and heroine. I first determine whose story this is going to be. And, yes, there is always one protagonist in my stories, not two. Although both the hero and heroine will play major roles in the story, one will be the main focus throughout.

The protagonist is the person who will experience the most growth throughout the course of the novel. This main character can be either the hero or the heroine. But whichever one I choose to highlight, the other will be the antagonist.

Yes, you read that correctly. The hero and heroine are either the protagonist or antagonist of their shared story.

Think of it this way. If the heroine is the protagonist that means the events of the story will impact her most and she will experience the most change in her life/lifestyle/thinking/mores and so on. Who will drive that change? The hero, hence his role as the antagonist. He is not a villain, not in the traditional sense, but rather the person the heroine will have the most conflict with throughout the duration of the story. He is quite literally the main obstacle standing in her way. But here’s the good part. He is also the person who will help her meet her goal in the end. And that’s what makes a romance a romance.

The Disney movie Aladdin is a good example. The protagonist in that story is definitely Aladdin. Aladdin is a diamond in the rough. In the early part of the story he is more “rough” than diamond. In the opening seen we get a few glimpses of that diamond underneath, enough to see he’s a good guy (remember how he gave his bread to the little orphans after stealing it?). But he has a long way to go to become a diamond. Even in that opening scene he makes questionable choices. He’s a thief and rationalizes that behavior because he has no other choice.

Although Jafar is the clear villain in the story, Jasmine is our antagonist. She is the person driving Aladdin’s change. Once Aladdin meets her he begins to make even worse decisions than before, decisions that take him farther away from becoming the diamond he’s meant to be. However, through the events of the story and his relationship with Jasmine, Aladdin comes to discover his true nature—a man of integrity who will save the day with the cunning he once used for selfish gain.

Okay, that’s a super abbreviated explanation but I hope you get the point I’m trying to make. If not for Jasmine, Aladdin might have never become the man he was meant to be. Trying to win her love was what made Aladdin a better man (despite or maybe even because of his many wrong turns). His altercations with Jafar would have been the same with or without Jasmine in his life, but without her Aladdin might not have made the right (and wrong) choices that led to vanquishing that terrible villain.

Can you think of other examples?


Jenna Mindel said...

Hey Renee,
Love your post. I too start with my characters - but I'm a weak plotter so finding that external story that pushs the characters thru their internal growth is the biggest challenge for me. :)
Since we're talking Disney - I have to say that "Tangled" was awesome and an excellent example of your point. This is totally Rapunzel's story of growth. Our hero, Flynn "Eugene" Rider, not only is an obstacle, but the one who ultimately sets her free. I LOVE THIS MOVIE - it's an excellent romance!!! Right up there with Beauty & the Beast.

Karen Kirst said...

I agree with Jenna. Tangled is an awesome movie! I love the transformation Flynn undergoes-from self-absorbed thief to self-sacrificing hero. Renee, great cover on your book! I'm like you in that I dream up the characters first then follow with the story. It's fun to explore different plot lines.

Renee Ryan said...

Ooo, Jenna, I haven't seen Tangled yet. Must go to the movies this week. Will call it research. ;-)


Renee Ryan said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for the kudos on the cover. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Great question Renee. Hmmm-character or plot. That depends which pops into my mind first. :) And I agree with Jenna and Karen. Tangled was awesome-so awesome my kids wanted to see it again. So can't wait for it to come out on DVD so we can buy it.

Jenna Mindel said...

Ditto what Karen said - Flynn makes a great transformation. A classic hero to cheer for!

I can't wait to get the DVD. I could easily watch it over and over. And I don't have kids. LOL. :)

Char.... said...

Nice explanation, Renee. Although I fall on the side of serious plotter, you're absolutely right. Well done!