Good question!

I try to plan out my big beats at the start of the book and then "let" the characters figure out how to get from one big beat to the next. I don't think there's been an instance where I got to that beat and the character motivation/development had changed so much to alter the outcome, but how the granular plot transpired isn't something I like to plan out at the start.

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If I could map out a hierarchy of importance, for what I enjoy as I create and what I look for in books, character would be at the top, plot would be way, way, way at the bottom. As a kid, maybe not, but that's how my tastes have changed.

Just look at A Confederacy of Dunces. Fantastic use of character, but almost no "plot". Things happen, but it's not a defined "beginning, middle, end." One of my favourite books.

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Structure > Character > Plot

i.e. the Poe-etic Effect I wrote about recently.

What will be remembered (provided you have the structure for it) are characters. No one remembers plot. All those ingenious layers and double meanings? Forgotten, ignored, gone.

If you have structure and characters fleshed out, there is hardly any need to plot anything anyway, in fact, I find it counter-intuitive to plot everything plus it's no fun at all writing a pre-plotted story. How much fun will it be reading pre-plotted stories? Zero. Characters are going through the motions, strings are being pulled, and then and then and then etc pp.

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Magically thinking non-believer, here. This is a great reminder that in each story I write, no matter the length that while what happens can be interesting, who it happens to pulls people in. There’s an investment. I’m writing something now and it reminds me to go back to the characters themselves and build on who they are. Thanks for sharing.

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Plot? Character? Story? Setting? Theme? These are things that never come into mind when I'm writing. Should they? I usually write long short stories. I don't "PLOT" them out, but I do have an idea of "WHERE" I want the story to go. You have to know "HOW" the story ends. Everything else is just getting there. Each story, of course, is different--but the end result is always the same...you have to know "WHERE" it is. I don't write my stories with the intention of proving something thematically. I don't look for theme--that's for other people to look for. What do I care, if I'm writing a story and basically telling it to myself, first? My so-called "PLOT" consists of me thinking of how I want it to end, and what do I need in order to get there? And that's it. Is there going to be a happy ending? Hard to say, but I doubt it. I get the story across with my "character", and I get the character across with "dialogue". I'd like to think that most of the character is revealed through the dialogue he speaks, and the action he follows to support that dialogue. It's like peeling back the layers of an onion--only you're adding them. The setting's important, sure, but it shouldn't take over the story; World-building shouldn't take away from the characters in the story. Everybody writes differently. I tend to edit as I go along. I go back and forth, adding here and there--sometimes adding something because I think it needs foreshadowing. Sometimes it's just a single words, or a sentence. But only YOU knows where that word, or line, should go. If your story's going to be 15,000 words, you want the words to "fit" and make the whole thing cohesive. So character is important. But writing is like building a house of cards. You have to have everything in place. Character, Plot, Story, Setting, even Theme, are all a part of the "foundation". You can't create a story without having the tools handy. "How" you use them is up to you.

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Seriously, I would LOVE to take a more strategic and logical approach to character and plot building. Believe me, I've read oodles of books on plot mechanics etc. However, my creative process is indeed exasperating and very emotionally-driven no matter how much I try to change it.

Sometime back I decided to just build some discipline in and learn what makes me create best. It's been working for me so far.

I think there is just no one way of writing and everyone's creative process is different. I say embrace what works for you and to hell with everyone's advice lol. There's a creative writing coach that talks about it - her name is Becca Syme. She made me realise that my process is just my process, and if my process doesn't make sense to others doesn't mean it's wrong.

Btw, through her site I discovered a number of people who actually created the way I did. Apparently, your creative process is personality-driven, and I actually found people who created the way I did and leaned into learning how to use my strengths to create great stuff.

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On the one hand, I love the idea of a tulpa, specifically Superman. On the other, haha. No.

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Eh, I rather think that when a character starts arguing with you, it's a sign that the plot has taken a wrong turn. I experienced this early on with my Martiniere books, where Gabriel started hollering at me that *things didn't really happen the way you're trying to write them and this is why they happened.* The story definitely improved for the better when I listened to what my subconscious was telling me about this person...um, something like nine books later.

The flip side, which is when a character *isn't* coming to life, often reflects a lack of world building, character building (and no, I'm not talking about things that show up in character creation sheets regarding eye color or hair color or what they do/don't like--rather, the interaction of that character with the plot), or sometimes a problem with the story. More often I find it's something within the world building or character construction that keeps a character from coming to life, rather than a plot problem. At least in my process, if the character is turning in a manner where the plot doesn't fit, then the character is usually hollering at me about it.

The silent character, though? Sometimes that character is not quite ready to reveal themselves. Those tend to be more complex creations hanging out with the secondary characters. But when they speak--they can be the most fun.

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"... humans are definitely weird for doing any of this in the first place." Yup.

As to your questions, I'm more practical.

As for plot-central, I've only written one book where I didn't worry about plot (though there is plot), concentrating on setting/character. Otherwise, I can't seem to live without plot.

I write a long synopsis of the story first and then iron out as many of the plot-problems as I can then write. Then iron out anything else that pops up during the rewrite, revise, resolve stage.

My excuse for approaching story this way is probably due to me being overly logical and rational. To my writing's detriment? I don't know. But everyone whose read my books says they like them.

I always take 'like' as relative, because the 'perfectionist' in me always finds something 'wrong' or something to 'fix' or something to 'improve' in all my stories.

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I do think there is still a mystical element to it. I don’t know why my synapses fire the way they do to paint the pictures that appear in my head. They’re just there. Where the craft comes in is in me translating that head movie into something comprehensive and compelling for people other than me to consume.

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May 22Liked by Simon K Jones

Good thought-provoker, Simon.

Strong characters a strong story makes.

"Do you think of your characters as individuals almost independent of yourself, or do you take a more practical approach?"

I'd say I'm somewhere in between. The characters certainly don't exist independent of me, though I hold to that somewhat magical notion that I have set them free on the page but that they are still bound by the margins. Learning to inhabit your characters, or take on some aspect of essentially channeling them whilst you write, creates a sense of agency that is theirs alone, even though it is still deriving ultimately from you, the writer.

So the craft here (again, for me and how I feel about it) is being better at allowing that process to happen and tapping into it.

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Obviously my characters are creations of my imagination, but that doesn't mean they can't surprise me. I was surprised when Leon turned on to be gay and in love with Diaz.

I suppose if a character seems to take on an inner life, can surprise the author, and even, occasionally, end up changing plot beats (or refusing to fit into a plot beat you'd originally intended for that character, you've done it right.

But, here I use Babylon 5 examples *Spoilers ahead for a TV show from the 1990's*

JMS didn't want to kill off Kosh, yet (wrote JMS), when it came time to do so, there Kosh was, saying, "It's time. It's what I'm here for."

When it came time to kill Emperor Cartagia, the outline had Londo doing the deed, yet (wrote JMS), Vir popped up, saying, "it should be me. Have me do it." And so he did.

Applies to short stories, novels, plays, TV and film. Even games. I used to maintain a stable of four PCs to move in and out of the campaign (our Ref now limits us to two, and, in some games, just the one, and I'm pretty sure it's because of me) as required by the character. Lord Baileigh... I'd intended to retire him, and have him return to his estate to repair his shattered relationship with his wife, but... The missions would come in and Leon wouldn't do it (Leon had his own quest), Hugo wouldn't do it (he was apolitical and off running his trade routes). Baileigh... Well, the missions related to the aftermath of one of his greatest mistakes. He, reluctantly, had to go. Halfway through one mission, when it was discovered the Patron had lied to us about motivation, Lord Baileigh basically said, "this doesn't concern me, I'm out," and left (taking Francois with him). Salty Pete stepped from the ranks of the NPC sailors and finished the job - and had a great story to tell over cards.

"What, Roldolpho? Who woo'd the Lady Pamela?

"Ah, Pamela Maurice, the most beautiful woman I ever seen! Gascony-dark, curved like a perfect wave, lips like apples, eyes like deep pools, a voice like velvet, skin smooth as satin, and hair the shade of deepest night. The wit of the finest scholar, and braver in one of her dainty toes than all you lot together! Didn't I say the man who married her was a lucky bastard, indeed? Would ye care to guess?

"No, Seamus, ye daft! T'wasn't me (tho' that's the nicest thing ye ever said t'me).

"The Imp, Pierre? Aye, ye be funny, lad! Beauty and the Beast, indeed! Think! I did say the man t'was a lucky bastard.

"Rodolfo? Aye! Ye guessed it right! T'was Fortuno Bonaventure who did marry the Lady Pamela. In the end he lived up to his name!"

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I do think of them as independent of myself, but only in so much as I try not to endow them with my own personality traits. They are perfectly in my control. I wrote them and I know why. I've always been opposed to the magical thinking because it prohibits teaching character development. If my characters make decisions, talk to others and take action through their own will, then there is no point in me trying to teach others about what makes a great character. I think that's the real crux of the issue. Most writers aren't teachers, and to ask them to distill character choices down to a comprehensible formula would be impossible. It's easier to say it's magic, or those characters have a will of their own.

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I think defining characters enough to let them shape the plot is itself a skill. Roleplaying and acting are both skills, which is all about manifesting character. In another way it's also simply cause and effect, the characters are variables, and you think about what the result of certain interactions would be that makes sense. Consistent characterization is key to a story's internal logic.

With Battles Beneath the Stars I recently had some characters change fairly early into a story. I came up with new directions for them and liked those better, so I went with the new ideas. But it does feel like they changed themselves. Main thing of course is that they weren't too well defined before, now they feel more like proper characters with some nuance instead of just filling some role.

If you want to be unmagical/unimaginative about it, saying the characters write themselves is just about how new ideas tend to come out of nowhere, which happens with any inventive process. But writing is about imagination.

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It's funny, but I do find that my stories take turns and twists in different directions as my characters interact and reveal more of themselves. It's me thinking through things like, "Why would they react this way?" and then explaining their personality and motivations more through more back story and future behavior.

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I'm with you on this. I miss my people. When I was doing my one woman show of comedic characters I created, I was thrilled to become them whenever I performed. This has translated to my first novel-in-progress. When I'm away from my characters for more than a few days I miss them.

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