Are you a plot-first novelist or a character-first novelist? When I started off as a writer, these were the only two options presented to me. I was informed that spec-fic authors are usually plot first, so that’s what I labeled myself as. Yet…it never really fit. For some reason, I never seemed to think of a plot or a character. I would think of a question.
Now, a few years have passed and I’m a bit more enlightened to the fact plot-first and character-first aren’t the only options for novel-writers. (Tweet this!) So far, I’ve identified four:
The Plot-First Novelist
Two kids get stranded on an island filled with dinosaurs! (Jurassic Park) That would be a “plot-first” idea. These authors will think up the big journey — the journey to the center of the earth, or 20,000 leagues under the sea, or defeating “The Dark Side” of the force.
For people who come up with the mind-blowing plots, they often have a hard time rounding out the characters. Characters will turn cardboard, or pancake-flat, and trying to get these people to live and breathe in a novel is like inflating a raft using a straw.
I am not a plot-first novelist.
The Character-First Novelist
A red-headed over-talkative orphan loves to read and accidentally gets adopted by an old couple who actually wanted a boy. (Anne of Green Gables.) Character-first. If you’re a character-first novelist, that means you think, “What if there was a girl who could….” or “What if there was a boy who struggled with…” and then you build the story around that. Your ideas start with a compelling character and you then go on a quest to find a good plot in which that character will thrive.
Often times, character-first novelists (whom all plot-first novelists slightly envy) struggle with creating a believable or forward-moving plot. It takes a lot of brainstorming, re-writing, re-thinking, and all that fun stuff that makes us turn gray and then rip all our gray hairs out.
I am definitely not a character-first novelist.
The Storyworld-First Novelist
Four children find a new world through a wardrobe filled with mythical creatures. (Narnia) A world where people can communicate telepathically because of a certain bloodline (Blood of Kings Trilogy, by Jill Williamson)
I first heard of storyworld-first writing from fellow Enclave author, Jill Williamson (who is currently Kickstarting an awesome chapter book series!). I gasped aloud and thought, “That must be me! I’m not plot or character first, so it must be storyworld.” She once called herself a storyworld-first novelist, which surprised me because her plots and characters are all fantastically developed (envy, envy, envy.)
These authors think of the world first and then have to sprinkle plot and characters into it. I imagine that means that characters and plot are a little harder for them, but hopefully the characters and plot evolve after the rules of the created world.
I thought I was a storyworld-first novelist for a while…until last year.
The Question-First Novelist
I attended the ACFW Conference last year where author James L. Rubart spoke about developing story. He never used the “question-first” title of novel-writing, but he encouraged authors to ask the “what if” question. These writers think of a concept first. What if toys came alive when kids weren’t looking? (Toy Story) What if zombies overtook the world? (World War Z). I imagine that plot, storyworld, and characters are all a little harder to create than the concept, but the concept is what grabs the readers in the aisles of bookstores.
That’s when I finally realized what I am. I am a question-first novelist!
Which Type of Novelist Are You?
These “titles” or types of novelists are not exclusive. I’m sure there are some that I’ve missed. They are also not singular — you’re not one or the other or the other. They can go hand in hand. For example, the question-first novelist might find that his “what if” question is actually a plot! (ex. What if an alien visited earth and met a little boy who wanted to help him get home = E. T.)
The fact remains that some of us thrive with different starting points in our stories, but writing is a battle ground no matter what type of novelist you are. (Tweet this!) However, identifying your strengths in brainstorming will also help you realize your weaknesses and why you tick the way you do.
Which type of novelist do you think you are?
Have I missed one?
I’m a plot-first novelist! What type are you? (Click to tweet)
I’m a character-first novelist! What type are you? (Click to tweet)
I’m a storyworld-first novelist! What type are you? (Click to tweet)
I’m a question-first novelist! What type are you? (Click to tweet)
Who ever said that “plot-first” and “character-first” are the only types of novelists? (Click to tweet)
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