Which Came First: Character or Plot

The other night at critique group, someone asked me if I have fully developed characters when I begin a fiction project or if I start with the plot.

Maybe some people always start with one or the other but, for me, it varies.

For my YA fantasy, Wolf Guilt, I started with a fully developed character.   In fact, this character came into being when I was in high school.  After spending so much time walking in her shoes, I know her inside out and backwards.  I know what she will say and do in most situations and the plot arose out the conflict she would face living in her particular society.

Other times I start with a plot.  I’m about 1/3 of the way through the first draft of a young middle grade called Rat Race. I started this one after thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if a kid with a pesky kid sister tried to cast a spell on her?  Of course, it would go all wrong.”  Before I could start writing, I had to noodle over what kind of character would find themselves in this situation.  And, yes, I’m an oldest child.

Other times, I start with a vague situation.  What would happen if you reversed fishing and the fish went “humaning”?  Noodling this situation over led first to the plot and then to the characters of my picture book manuscript The One That Got Away.

Maybe some writers always start with character, while others always start with plot.  My creative process is much less routine.  Sometimes I start with one.  Sometimes I start with the other.  Sometimes I start with something completely different.

My advice — start with whatever it is that intrigues you.   Whatever it is, let it grow until you have a fully developed story.