Which Comes First? The Plot or the Character?

character or plotAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about naming a new character. I pointed out that although she wasn’t being entirely forthcoming with the details, I had figured out her name.  I planned to get to know her a bit better and then figure out what the plot problem is.  This is the opposite of how I normally work.  A plot or situation comes to me, I start to figure out some of the specifics, then I figure out what kind of person would find herself in that situation.

This time I started with my character, Frankie.  I thought that I would figure out the plot after I got to know her so I started working through some characterization exerices.  Or at least I tried to but I just couldn’t seem to move forward.  She’s married . . . or is she?  Maybe she was engaged.  She lives in the house she and her husband bought . . .unless she lives in an apartment.  Ugh!

Then suddenly I knew the plot.  It’s a mystery so you’ll have to forgive me for not revealing all.  But I now know it is a murder mystery.  I know who is killed as in I know his relationship to Frankie.  I know who the primary suspect is and I know what problems this too presents for Frankie.

Now that I have a sketchy plot, other things are falling into place.  Instead of researching the time period in general, I’m going to start with the setting, time and place.  I need to figure out who would have lived where and where Frankie might have worked.  It needs to be someplace that wouldn’t have been entirely segregated although there are racial issues.  That’s part of the plot.

I may have started out with some sketchy ideas about my character, but things didn’t start to fall into place until I had a general plot.  Now I can get to work on the details.

Have any of you written a mystery?  If so, what element did you develop first?  Character?  Crime?  Setting?