What's It's Like to be a Character-Driven Author (a look at my non-existent creative process)

by - October 26, 2018

I came to the full-out conclusion a couple days ago that I'm a character-driven author. Yes, I'd suspected it for a while, but as I've been plotting a new story it's become entirely obvious to me that there's no other way my stories happen. I don't come up with plots and then characters to fit them; I don't come up with storyworlds and then a plot to fit into that world. I don't come up with a concept and try to invent a story to work with it.

Instead, my mind projects a character, and I come up with a story to work with the character.

This process interests me, probably because it's the way I've always been. I never used to think of myself as any particular kind of writer--I just happened to be a writer whose characters were her close friends and who imagined herself running wild through a world with a million characters I invented on the spot to fit with the scenario. My stories have all gone through dozens of changes over the years, and it's the characters who have evolved and changed the story to fit with their shifts.

An example of the way this has worked for me follows:

>I invent a story at the age of 8. It's called The Tunnel, and it features a kid named King George who I decide to write a whole series about.
>I come up with a massive world and 10 books for a series about King George and his ancestors and descendants.
>I realize that only a couple of my characters actually work, and shift it all so that only one major story is present.
>Several of the villains all come together, as well as several main characters from different points in the series. The villain from what originally would have been book 2 became a side villain named Elensha; an angsty female character from book 7 and 8 became my male lead's snarky younger sister, Anna.
> My characters do some shapeshifting, and once the character arc for my male lead comes to me in a lightbulb flash moment, the whole plot falls into place.
>And just like that, I have a story that I'm proud of.

The amusing thing is that this method, for the Pentegreen series, took me EIGHT YEARS to nail down where the story was actually going. Six versions of the book and eight full years of brainstorming later, I have something I love and really does have promise. But...before that, it was a wreck, and I knew it. There was always something a little bit off.

Here's my process in a nutshell:

I invent characters, and then proceed to fashion a plot where the characters will best fit. 

For example, my potential work Watched began life as part of the Pentegreen series. Mel, the protagonist of that story, was one of Esma's younger friends originally; Bryce, Mel's best friend, was the brother of Esma's boyfriend. And various other characters were also originally kids in the Pentegreen series. 

But then we visited the city of Washington D.C. and I thought, for some reason...what if there was a futuristic version of America that, for some reason, starred my characters? It was a silly idea, I knew, but...I liked it. So I rolled with it.

And Mel, Bryce, Lucas, and their friends and family stayed in a futuristic DC, while Esma, Rishatta, Martin, and the other characters of the Pentegreen series moved back to the fantasy world of Sildalone.

This gives me a singularly odd creative process. When people ask me where I get my ideas, I typically have to shrug and point to the side of my head, because the characters really do spring up fully formed, and the back of my mind usually does the rest. It's a strange thing, really, but I do appreciate it to some extent.

Because it means I don't have to take full responsibility for the wild ideas I have. *shrugs*

This is the main reason I classify myself as a "plantser." I need a strong cast of characters and a firm idea of where the story is going and how these characters are going to play off one another, but I don't really use an outline. I've done some outlining in the past, but the amuisng thing is that they always end up being more of "character maps" than anything.

As I went into editing the second book in the Pentegreen series, I tried to make an outline with all my plot threads, only to realize that each thing I'd thought was a plot thread was actually just a character's arc/storyline.

So it looked something like this:

(Sorry it's sideways, I could not fix that for the LIFE of me xD)

Coming up to the two latter books of this series, this becomes even more important, because I essentially have six main characters. Each of them is important, each has their own POV, and I need to keep track of where each of their plot threads are going. But...it's sort of impossible for me to write it down in a nice orderly fashion. And thus, all the work of figuring out how my characters drive the story (or just sit numb in the middle of the story and let it spin around them)

This post was a bit more of a ramble than I was expecting, and also kind of a brain-dump, but it was also really fun! I hope you enjoyed what ended up being a weird look at my weird brain. At some point I might be interested in writing a post about how I actually write a book (at least the first draft, lol). If you'd like to see that post, let me know in the comments!

Are you a character-driven author, a plot-driven author, or something else? When you try to translate your outline to paper does it fall apart in your face? Chat with me in the comments! 

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  1. I honestly have no idea what kind of writer I am. I would say I’m a plot-driven writer, but I also really really love developing characters...... *shrugs* I’ll figure it out. :P

    And ooh, yes, that post about writing the first draft sounds awesome! I always love to hear about other peoples' writing processes.

    Great post, Faith!

    1. It is one of those things that very much comes with time, so don't worry about it too much and let it come naturally, haha. xD

      Awesome! I may have to put one of those into the works ;)

      Thank you!!!!

  2. Wonderful post! I applaud you for being character-driven (even if it just happened naturally), because I tried to write a novel starting with the characters, and boy oh boy it was hard.

    1. It can be hard, it really can! (I feel the same way about starting with plot, lol.) But thank you!!!!

  3. I think I'm character driven too. I always start with them and the plot just kind of happens to them.
    Love getting a glimpse into your process.

    1. That's so awesome! Yeah, that's kind of exactly how I write :D

      Thanks Skye!

  4. This was totally fascinating! I LOVE seeing how others write and come up with stories and their overall processes. (Which means YES, I absolutely want a post about how you write first drafts!)

    I think it's the BEST how character-driven you are. Because no matter how amazing a plot or world may be, if the characters are flat, the story will be too. Characters are EVERYTHING, no matter how crazy the plot is. I think people are going to resonate with your stories so, so much because of how REAL you make your characters.

    I don't really know WHAT to call myself. Because, like I said, characters are eeeverythiiing to me, not just reading, but 1000% in my own writing. BUT, at the same time, I do often come up with a plot first, and my plots can get pretty wild. Lol. Still though, so much of my plots are centered on building character arcs, and I do my best to put an immense amount of emotional connection to my characters. Plus, like you, most of my characters just...appear, with full personalities and backstories and everything. So...I DON'T KNOW. I guess I'm a hybrid? Plot -AND character-driven writer? Who even knows? XD

    1. Ah, yay! Alright, I will definitely put one of those in the works xD

      THANK YOU CHRISTINE. This means so much to me, my goodness. Characters really are the driving force of the story, and so if they're not good...it just doesn't matter as much. Hence the fact that, while I can respect Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a really excellent film with a lot going for it, I still don't like it because I'm personally not really a fan of Cap XD (Just to use the first example that popped into my head, haha.)

      That's totally okay! We'll call you a Plarachter author ;) XD

      Thank you for reading! This comment is everything <3

  5. Books driven by characters are great. If we don't connect to the characters, we lose everything. But I do think a healthy balance is key. :D

  6. As a character-driven writer, I relate to this post so much! <3

  7. Hehehe, I'm a character driven author too...XD Also, I love that eight-year-old you wanted to write a story about a King George. That's amazing. XD

  8. Nice post! ^_^ I would say I'm a pretty balanced writer. Some book ideas spawn from a really great plot idea, while others come from characters that I think up and place into different situations. Though that's sometimes a problem because I'll either have a great idea and no characters, or I'll have all these amazing characters but absolutely no idea what they should be doing. XD

  9. Interesting! I don't know if I'm a character-driven writer, though I definitely write character-driven stories. For me, I think half a character and half a plot normally spring into my head and I kind of just follow the character on their journey from there, discovering the story and who the nature of the character as I write. Then the editing stage is figuring out which parts of the story are important enough to keep. :p

    Interesting post!



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