Sunday, December 6, 2009

Character v. Plot

I had a great discussion with my critique group this week. We started talking about writing styles, mainly writing with character in mind versus writing with plot in mind.

In some of my previous blogs, I discussed how I was trying to focus more on character in my picture books. I took it a step further to develop some character worksheets and to create a couple of kids I thought would make great picture book material. It wasn't until I actually tried to write some stories around them that I discovered something about myself. I don't write that least not naturally.

So I'm a plot kind of gal. Who knew? And is that okay? I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird a few years ago and remembered her description of her own writing style. She says she creates a character she likes and follows them around for a day to see what they will do (I paraphrase wildly, of course).

I mentioned this to the group, and one of the ladies said she heard the exact opposite from Barbara Kingsolver, another one of my favorites. When asked if she would keep a character that "would not let her write" in a certain way (i.e., would not follow the plot line), Kingsolver replied, "then I would fire that character and find a new one!"

I take from this discussion the fact that you can be either type of writer and be successful. The most reassuring thing I've read in awhile comes from a book called Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. She says yes, you must do a character study for each character in your book, but you don't need to do it right away. Go ahead and write that first draft, but do it at some point.

That's good news for plot people like me, who have a good idea for a story and need to get it down. Character then comes into the story like an audition. We find someone who can play the role rather than writing the role specifically for them. There's probably different schools of thought on this, but for now, it works for me.

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