Contributed by @AmyJonesSQ
What does the author of a story do first in her writing adventure? Does she draw up the plot or create her characters? Stephanie Meyer once said that her idea for Twilight blossomed from a dream. She dreamt about a beautiful, magical boy who fell in love with a lovely mortal teenage girl. She envisioned the two star crossed lovers in a quiet meadow. In the same interview she mentioned that the famous meadow scene from Twilight was the first scene written even though we all know it didn’t take place until close to the middle of the story. If this is true one could make the argument that Stephanie Meyer created her characters before she whipped up her plot. Personally, I find this very difficult to do. While I do feel strong characterization is the key to a strong story or dramatization I have to know the world and circumstances the characters exit in before I can really develop them. For this reason I begin my writing journey with a loose plot. For example, my loose plot for Soul Quest went something like this.
A God – like being discovers demon - like creatures on Earth. The demons are trying to kill human kind and take over the world. His resolution is to empower four teenagers with supernatural abilities in an effort to save the world from disaster.
This scenario actually evolved from a dream I had. So, it must be a common strategy for authors to literally dream up their stories. From this loose plot I immediately knew I had to create at least six powerful characters. I needed to create a God – like being, four teenagers who possessed supernatural abilities and a demon. Before I could begin to develop these characters I realized I needed to know/decide why the demons were attacking the Earth and why the God – like creature cared about what they were doing. Once I achieved this I was able to flesh out the characters I’ve come to know and love in The Soul Quest Trilogy.
What is my process for developing characters? There is a science to my madness. I start in the magazine isle at the grocery store. I swear to you I am not bluffing. All of the paranormal excitement begins on isle six at Food Lion. Seriously, magazines are a great tool for character development. I use this same technique with my theater arts students in the class room. A snap shot of a woman in a field of flowers could be a character in a play or a book. Who is she? What is she doing? Why is she there? When did she go there? How long has she been there? How does she feel? Why does she feel that way? You can grasp a million ideas from a single picture. You know what they say… a picture is worth a thousand words. Magazines are helpful when you are researching characters of any age but I find them particularly useful when writing about my younger characters. I am a young adult writer so I have to know what types of people my readers will relate to and truly believe to be teenagers in my story. This can only happen if they fit into the current popular culture. I flip through the popular teen magazines to see who young people find cool, handsome and interesting. I want to know why they feel that way about them. I’m especially interested in their appearance and attitude. What do they look like, what do they wear, what is their style and personality? From this I can create my character’s physical appearance, personality strengths and weaknesses, their objective or goal in the story, the obstacles that stand in their way and tactics they may use to resolve their problems (… and you thought I was crazy for doing character research in the grocery store).
Of course, magazines are just a starting place. Most of my character’s emotions and feelings stem from my own experiences and perceptions in life. My main character in Soul Quest is Liv Glyn. Liv is a smart, sweet and outgoing girl with a lot of common sense and good ideas. She is incredibly perceptive and humble and she believes overly impulsive, boastful people are naïve and careless. Many of Liv’s feelings and views on life are similar to my own. I named her after my daughter, Olivia and gave her similar physical attributes to define her beauty. The name Olivia is Latin in origin and means olive tree or branch of life. It is from this meaning that I came up with the idea for my teenage Oracles to possess affinities for Earth, fire, wind and water.
Whether an author begins with an idea for a plot or character first doesn’t really matter. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Each person is different creatively and so creativity is going to manifest itself in a unique way in all of us. When I choreograph a dance I rarely start at the beginning, I usually begin somewhere in the middle. I don’t know why exactly, I just know that when the piece starts I like to know the direction its taking and when it completes itself I need to understand where it evolved from. Similarly, when I am directing a play I will not necessarily begin with scene one. Instead, I will analyze the script and determine what scenes prove to be the most difficult. In most cases these scenes are at the heart of the story where the characterization and plot are most complex. If I can effectively direct these scenes the rest of the play should naturally lead up to them and wind down to a resolution. Writing isn’t any different. Begin with a plot or a character. Flesh out your storyline and invent your characters later. Write about your character’s feelings and interactions with one another first and then build a plot to support the scene. It is simply a matter of what process works best for you or your current work in progress.
- Amy Maurer Jones, author of The Soul Quest Trilogy