There are several benefits to beginning the story development process with character. First, it helps the writer avoid the temptation of over-plotting – of creating twists and turns that could collectively make up ten novels, never mind just one. Beginning with character also gives the story room to grow organically.
A drawback, however, is that the writer could end up with a lack of plot – a story that doesn’t really go anywhere. This can leave the writer feeling stuck and losing steam. The story could also end up spiralling out of control, leaving the writer with a draft that needs to be extensively gutted. When I first drafted Blue is for Nightmares, for example, I didn’t pre-plot at all. In the end, a lot of what I’d written was extraneous and needed to be cut. I threw away almost 200 pages, not because they were poorly written but because they didn’t serve the story I was telling.
What’s best is to begin with both plot and character in mind. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you do that:
1. What does your character want?
2. What is the conflict? In other words, what is keeping the character from getting what he wants? Conflict can be found in an opposing character, or it can be found within your character, i.e. if your main character wants to be loved, a lack of self-esteem may be keeping him from getting loved.
3. What aspects of character are going to affect action? For example, if your character is lonely or feels ignored at home, she might seek attention in dangerous places.
4. What about your character’s background led to conflict with his opponent? What need is he or she fulfilling? What made him feel as though he/she needed to take this sort of control over someone? You may or may not be answering these questions directly in a story, but it’s important to know the answers.
5. What is the climax of the story? In other words, what is the highest point of tension? Why have you chosen it?
6. Does your character finally get what she wants? Why or why not?
7. How does your character grow? What does he learn by the end of your story?