What comes first character or plot?

This article is part of the Rolling Mystery Blog Tours Ink group. To read articles on this subject from other members of the group, see the list of participants and their blog addresses below.

I’m really happy to jump on board for this topic. As luck would have it, I was just on a panel at the Mystery Day at the Library of Virginia that discussed this.

As I listened to a few master’s of the craft, I realized that for me it’s hard to distinguish the two. My brain just doesn’t seem to work that way. I mean I do know the difference between them, but once I think of a plot, characters to carry out the plot immediately spring to mind. They may not be fully fleshed out—but if you start with an image like, for example, scrapbooks sitting on a curb, then you begin to wonder WHO do they belong to? Why did that person leave them there? Which leads to the glimmer of this character about whom the plot revolves.

My novels all begin for me with a series of images, which relate directly to the characters and the plot. Let’s take the example of the empty scrapbooks left on the curb, which is one of the beginning scenes in my first book—SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS . The very next action is that a group of women (characters) abscond with them. Without that action, there is no plot. Without those women/characters movement of the scrapbooks, there is no action.

You can read a lot about character-driven plots and narrative-driven plots, but I think an enjoyable read is about balance. Who wants to read about characters that are doing nothing? Or read a story without any characters?

Of course we can all point to novels that don’t work because of this imbalance. As readers we might say, “You know, I never felt like I knew that character.” Or “The plot just didn’t hook me in.”

As writers, we take note and hope to never hear those words about our books.

For me the whole process of creating story is a bit like creating an intricate weave on a rich and textured cloth—it all works together, just the right amount character, just the right amount of plot. Or at least we hope so.

Check out what the blog tour’s other writers have to say about plot and character.





5 thoughts on “What comes first character or plot?

  1. Kathleen Kaska says:


    You made a good point about listening to what readers have to say. It’s so important for them to connect with our characters after we hook them with our plot. Well done.


  2. mollie says:

    Thanks Kathleen and Nancy for posting. Yes–sometimes I think we writers get caught up in our own little worlds and forget our readers. And Nancy I had to cut myself short a bit on that analogy. I was waxing poetic about pulling and waving thread…hehe. Glad to know that what I left there worked. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *