Featured From the Archives: Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

Sadly, my good intentions for returning to my more prolific blogging days got derailed by what can only be described as a deluge of other obligations, both personal and work-related. But that’s not a trend I wish to continue, and I will be striving to find more time to create the snark-tinged articles you’ve all grown to know and (I hope) love. In the meantime, I present one of the last remaining archive-articles that hasn’t already resurfaced at least once. Enjoy!

Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/21/16

This is the literary equivalent of the chicken and egg scenario. Plot needs character in order for it to resonate emotionally with readers, and character without plot is really just someone standing around doing nothing. But which comes first?

There are writers in both camps who insist one or the other is the penultimate starting point for a story. But I disagree with all of them. I don’t think there is any one way to start. I firmly believe that every writer is different and will create in a way that’s unique to them. To try and constrain that creative process to a strict set of rules is futile, in my opinion. All it does is force writers who don’t naturally work that way to feel frustrated and inferior when their work fizzles and dies. Muses are fickle creatures, and prone to abandoning you when you try to force them into a rigid box. So instead of telling you that you absolutely must start with character, or plot, or even idea, I’m going to encourage you to experiment and find your own style.

But first, let’s take a look at the three different starting points, shall we? It’s hard to make an informed decision without all the facts, after all.

Character-Centric

Character-centric writers always start with a character. (You’ll see this approach a lot in fan fiction, where the only creative outlet left to the writer is character creation.) They create every last detail, from name all the way to their relationship with their great aunt Matilda’s cat who got ran over when they were four. These writers know their characters inside and out, to the point that you almost start to wonder if they’re creating a character for a novel or an imaginary best friend. Armed with pages and pages of character sheets, these writers have everything they need to get started — except a story.

Even though they’ve spent days, weeks, or months learning every minute detail of this fictitious person, they don’t have a story yet. No one wants to read those pages and pages of character notes, because they’re about as exciting as a clinical psych report to anyone but the author. You could have the coolest character in the world, but no one’s going to care unless you give them something to do. Which is why, oftentimes, you’ll notice character-centric authors struggle with plot. Since their focal point is the character, they simply don’t know how to create something interesting to fit them into, often resulting in a storyline that feels pointless, ambling around and around with no direction.

But, to their credit, character-centric authors school the rest of us when it comes to creating fully fleshed-out, believable characters. They just have to work a little harder in the plot department is all.

Plot-Centric

On the flip side of that coin is the plot-centric writer. These people start with a plot. They create every twist and turn, every multilayered goal and mini-quest in a road map of storytelling awesomeness. They know exactly how the story starts and ends, and everything in between, before they even put a word on paper. But the thing they don’t know? Their characters.

Characters are pawns to these writers, often showing up in outlines with nothing more than a placeholder name. The ins and outs of personality aren’t important unless they drive the plot. And often, that becomes a problematic downfall. Dull, cookie-cutter, two-dimensional characters are a hazard, a quagmire that too many plot-centric writers fall into. Just like the lack of plotting abilities in a character-centric story, the lack of rich characterization in a plot-centric work can destroy an otherwise amazing book.

Plot-centric writers have to pay extra attention to character development if they want any chance at resonating with readers emotionally. Plot only holds a reader’s interest so long; it’s the characters we really remember after we reach “The End.”

Idea-Centric

Outside of the character vs. plot debate is a third camp of writers — the idea-centric crowd. We (because this is the approach I use) are content to let the character and plot people duke it out over which element is more important because we go at it in a completely different way. The idea-centric writers don’t start with a character or a plot arc, they start with an idea, a concept. This can be a question — E. L. James has said she started with the question, “What would happen if you were attracted to somebody who was into the BDSM lifestyle, when you weren’t?” for her mega-hit 50 Shades of Grey. It can also be a point of inspiration — Marie Lu’s Legend series started with her curiosity over how the central relationship between Jean Valjean (a famous criminal) and Javier (a prodigious detective) in Les Miserable would translate into a more modern tale. It can even be a deeper message —The Hunger Games is actually a statement against the voyeuristic tendencies of American Television according to author Suzanne Collins.

When done well, the idea-centric approach combines the best of the other two, creating an extremely rich experience readers tend to remember long after they finish the book. But the key there is “when done well.” Idea-centric writers have to be careful that they don’t start to sound preachy, especially those with a message to impart. Character and plot can both suffer if the focus is too heavily placed on the root idea, resulting in an even bigger trainwreck than either of the two previous approaches. So while this is the method I use, I’m definitely not saying it’s perfect.

There are many people who will try to tell you their method is best. I’m not one of them. You find characters the most appealing part of a story? Go for it! Be character-centric. Just keep a watchful eye on your plot. You think plot is the all-important end-all? Great! Plot-centric it is. Have fun guiding us through your labyrinth of action. Just make sure you don’t forget about your characters along the way. And if, like me, you find plot bunnies lurking in the weirdest of places, go with it! Some of the strongest works on the market started that way. Just make sure you rein in your high horse before you reach preachy-ville.

Regardless which of the three starting points you choose, there will be things to watch out for. Each has its strength, and each has its weakness. But knowing the pitfalls ahead of time lets you avoid them before they ruin your masterpiece. The point is, there really is no right or wrong method, no matter what random people on the internet say. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, look for something else that does. That’s really all there is to it.

As for our chicken and egg conundrum, you tell me — which comes first? Character, plot, or idea?

Featured From the Archives: Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

All right, I know I promised that we’d be returning to the info-filled posts of yore, but after a week of battling a heat-induced sinus-migraine, I’m a bit lacking in the spare brain cells department. Plus, I’ve done a lot of serious posts over the past months/years, and when I look back through the archives, I realize just how much I miss the more lighthearted, humorous ones. So hopefully I can bring back some of the snark I used to possess, which seems to have fallen into the same elusive black hole as my artistic skills and the socks stolen by the Dryer Gnomes. In the meantime though, this is the perfect post to help inspire some humor.

Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/15/12

By now I’m sure you’ve gleaned that sarcasm and I are BFFs. And if you haven’t, let me spell it out for you: sarcasm and I are BFFs. There, don’t you feel enlightened?😉

But while I’m a huge fan of the cleverly timed sarcastic quip, not everyone is. Some people fail to see the humor in wittily worded insults and beautifully snide observations. (There must be something wrong with them. Who doesn’t love some clever, snarky banter?) Just like I fail to see the humor in Slap-Stick, Blunder, or Practical Jokes. (Which no one will ever convince me are anything but dumb and ridiculous.) I mean, really, why is it hysterical when some moron hits himself in the groin? Or falls over trying something that’s obviously going to end with a concussion and broken bones? Or farts. Seriously, just farts. Comedic genius? I think not.

I was often told growing up that I didn’t have a sense of humor. But as I got older, I realized that, no, I just didn’t have their sense of humor. But that didn’t mean I was/am completely devoid of appreciation for all things humorous. I’m just particular about it. Which brings us to the point of this week’s rather short installment.

Humor is subjective.

And I don’t believe that any one type of humor is better than another. Really, I don’t, I swear! (She says with fingers crossed behind her back.) The important thing is that something makes you laugh. And for better or for worse, sarcasm (along with irony and satire), is what does it for me.

Why is it the perfect mate for my breed of humor? I’m not really sure. Maybe I was hard-wired that way. Maybe it’s a by-product of growing up on shows like Friends and Seinfeld (which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I still watch daily on re-run). Maybe it’s because it lets me be a snarky ass and get away with it, earning me approval points instead of derision. Or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist pointing out when someone does something painfully obvious and stupid.

But most probably it’s because, in my eyes, sarcasm requires the most intelligence to pull off. And I find intelligence on anyone sexy. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would require much straining of the brain to conjure up jokes revolving around disgusting bodily functions, or to create ridiculous scenarios the audience can see coming a mile away. And don’t even get me started on the number of beyond-stupid things people post on Youtube — a phenomena I have yet to be overly amused by, but that will entertain my husband for hours upon days upon weeks. Half the time, when he shows me a montage of some idiot doing things even idiots should know better than to try, he’s met with a dead-pan stare and raised eyebrow that says, “Why? Why would you waste my time with that?” I just don’t get it. Sorry. But billions of people do, apparently. Hence the long-standing success of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show whose sole purpose is to crown the royalty of morons with $10,000 for their stupidity. Just saying.

As a writer, I have a fine sense of appreciation for the brilliant usage of words. Which, in the humor department, usually stands hand in hand with sarcasm. I like it because it’s subtle. It doesn’t stand in the room with a neon sign flashing over it’s head, screaming, “laugh now!” It’s simply a statement of the obvious. A twisted and bitter version perhaps, but still. It’s put out there and just is. You either find it funny, or you don’t. The validity of the statement isn’t void if no one finds it funny. It makes the person who said it seem like a pretentious d-bag, but the observation still stands. Case in point, I’m sure those of you that adore videos of people doing stupid things would agree that I now sound like a judgmental jerk.

But fear not, the beauty of humor is that it can often be combined, appealing to several comedic preferences at once.

Below is one of the few videos I’ve found (okay, had force-fed to me because I rarely ever hang out on Youtube) that combines both idiocy and sarcasm, and does it well. Copyright belongs to the brilliant minds of Break Originals, and I make no claims to it. I just thoroughly enjoy it and am not ashamed to say I still laugh every time I watch it. Making it the perfect way to close a post about humor. Enjoy!

Warning: Contains heavy sarcasm, people being injured, and country music. And I’m pretty sure a few exercise balls were harmed in the making of this video.

Book Feature: Princess of Tyrone by Katie Hamstead

From the moment I heard about this series, I was excited. It’s got all the makings of something I’m going to truly love — fairy tales, science fiction, and an author whose work I know I already adore. Ready to see more about it? Here you go!

Princess of Tyrone Book Cover

Apolline is happy hunting magical creatures on her pirate infested outer-perimeter planet. She is a fantastic shot, and doesn’t flinch at the blood and guts of her kills. Never once did she consider she could be the missing Princess of Tyrone.

All her life, she has heard the story of the Princess, cursed to sleep for eternity, unless her betrothed, the Prince of Oran, gave her true love’s kiss. Although Apolline knows she is betrothed, she thinks her fairy guardians arranged it out of ignorance of human ways. The thought she could be a princess is inconceivable.

Then Allard appears. Handsome, charming—but he’s not hers to have. He’s betrothed, too. Her guardians warn her against her new found friendship, but she and Allard meet in secret anyway. Despite her rough exterior, he sees beyond her gun-slinging bravado, and their love blossoms.

But the deadline for the sleeping curse is approaching. If Apolline falls in love with the wrong person, she could end up sleeping forever.

A quirky, adventurous retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a less than princess-ly princess!

Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was supposed to give you my thoughts on it today, but unfortunately, life has prevented me from reading it enough to provide a proper review. However, if there’s one thing I know about Hamstead’s work, it’s that I’m sure to enjoy it. I’m exceedingly excited to see what she does with this unconventional twist on a fairy tale we all know and love, and I’ll be sure to post the full review when I’m done. In the meantime, here’s one of the pretty teaser graphics to entice you and the link to the giveaway celebrating the book’s release (below).

Be sure to check it out!

pot3

About the Author:

katie hamsteadBorn and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing.

When her debut novel, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, climbed into bestselling status, she believed she was onto something, and now has a slew of novels now available, and is published through Curiosity Quills Press, Soul Mate Publishing, and REUTS Publications.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports, and be a good wife and mother. She now works as an Acquisitions Editor to help support her family. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

The 2016 Conference Circuit

Happy Friday everyone! While today is, in fact, April Fool’s Day, this post isn’t a joke. Trust me, my normal MO when I see April 1st looming on the calendar is this:

april_fools_by_xkari_chan-d5q3xbb

But it’s also a Friday this year, and I promised myself I would try and get back into posting more regularly. Which means I’m going to brave the prank-laden waters and send something out into the internet void. It’s not my usual style of article, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Or at least moderately helpful. So, here goes . . .

My 2016 Conference Schedule

(aka Where to Stalk Me)

Now that I’m the acquisitions director for REUTS Publications, I find myself involved in more conferences/workshops/book fairs. I also realize that many of you follow me because of that there job title, and might actually want to know about the various places you could come stalk meet me. So I’m adding a new page where I’ll list any cool events I’ll be attending throughout the upcoming months/years. Sound good? Good.

Here are this year’s current planned appearances (that sounds so weird! Like I’m famous or something. Haha. But I guess that’s what you call it?):

lakeflywriters_logo

 

May 13-14: I’ll be there manning the REUTS Publications table in the WWA’s Bookstore and Writer Services Market, so be sure to come and say hi! REUTS Pub founder and Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello will be on site hearing pitches that day, as well, in case any of you are interested. 😉

PNWA Logo

July 28-31: I’m super excited to be attending the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference this year. I’ve heard great things about it, and I look forward to both accepting pitches from amazing authors like you and having the opportunity to participate on a few panels (including one with my good friend, Cait Spivey)! There will be lots of chances to find me at this one, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check it out.

willamette-writers-conference-logo

August 12-14: This will be my second year attending the Willamette Writers Conference as faculty, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity. If you can’t make it to Seattle to see my presentation with Cait, you’ll have a chance to catch it again here. We’ll be giving you tips on what to do after you’ve received an edit letter, how you implement suggested changes into a work you thought you’d already perfected. It’s going to be (we hope) insightful, and include things you might not have heard about the author-editor relationship, so hopefully we’ll see you there! (I’ll also be accepting pitches here again, as well as providing a few Advanced Manuscript Critique opportunities, so be sure to check those out too if you’re planning on attending and want to work with me.)

Boise Bookfest

October 15: The details of this one are still being worked out, but I believe I’ll be accepting pitches, presenting on an as yet undecided topic (likely regarding fight scenes in fiction), and potentially hanging out at a REUTS Publications table to talk all things books with whoever wants to chat. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

All right, that’s all I’ve got this week. I do hope to see some of you at these events. Remember, I don’t bite, and chocolate is not required to talk to me but is always appreciated. Oh, and I have martial arts training, so maybe keep the stalking to the non-literal type? ‘k thanks, bye.

From the Editor’s Desk: Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

I’ve been kind of slacking on those book reviews I promised at the start of the year, but don’t worry, I’ve got a great one for you today. From the moment this author approached me about working on Dissolution, I knew I was going to love it. And when I read it, I was blown away by their talent. So it’s been hard for me to keep quiet, waiting for it to release. Thankfully, that moment has finally come and I can tell you all just how much I recommend you go buy this immediately. 😉

But first, here’s a little more info about this amazing novella:

Dissolution

by Lee S. Hawke

Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head, and your entire city might turn out to be a lie . . . what would you sell yourself for?

Now, I know what you’re thinking — yay, another dystopian to add to all the other dystopians flooding the market. But trust me, this one is unlike anything you’ve read. Yes, it does have some shades of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even a bit of The Giver embedded in it, but the premise underneath those elements is refreshing, different, and thought-provoking. Everything a good science fiction tale should be.

Hawke’s world is dominated by corporations, and a person’s value is entirely dependent on how much they can give — what their productivity is likely to be, how their skills rank against the corporations’ needs. They’re not people, they’re drones, slaves. Licensed IP to be bought and traded and sold. It’s chilling, and a cautionary message to the workaholics of the world.

But while there is a very strong thread of social commentary running throughout, it takes a back seat to the larger tale, which is an action-packed cyberpunk thriller in the vein of Phillip K. Dick.

Madeline (Maddie) has spent her entire life dreaming of escape from ANRON Life Limited, pegging all her hopes on the possibility of being purchased by MERCE, the more technology oriented corporation where she can put her modding skills to good use and where she’ll no longer be a human lab rat. But after years of rigorous trials and tests, competition, and an interview process that feels more like an interrogation than an interview, she finds that there was never any chance for escape. Her life has always belonged to ANRON, and now, they want it back. They’re revoking her license, sentencing her to death in the name of science.

And she’s having none of it. Alone, disconnected from the technology that serves as a lifeline for most of the city’s denizens, and on the run, she learns the true difference between good and evil. And in the process, she discovers that the corporations aren’t as untouchable as they seem.

Brilliant, emotional, and intelligent, Dissolution is a highly satisfying read. It is a novella, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a complete, self-contained, and moving tale that will challenge you to rethink your own views on corporations and technology in general. It’s a smart, well-written, amazing piece of storytelling and should not be missed.

And if you’d like a little additional incentive to check out this book, the author is hosting a crowdfunding campaign at the moment to help support The Royal Society of Victoria, an organization that promotes science education in Australia. So head on over there if you’d like to support a fantastic new author while also donating to a worthy cause.

For everyone else, here are the pertinent book links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble