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The Struggles of a Storyteller by Constance Gillam

For years I struggled with story. I had great ideas, but somewhere in the process I’d get stuck. The plot points I used to get unstuck would leave holes so big the story would resemble Swiss cheese.  The more I tried to repair the damage, the more convoluted the story became.

I keep thinking about the old adage: character is story. But my questions is: when George RR Martin thought about the Fire and Ice trilogy(since expanded to five books), did he say let me write a story about a dwarf, who was despised by his father and siblings and spent his days whoring and drinking his misery away, or did Mr. Martin say, let me tell the story about a Kingdom and a throne that was coveted by many houses?

Writers, what comes first to mind for you when you’re developing a new idea, character or plot? And to the readers out there when you pick you next read, what draws you in and makes you want to buy, a great plot or fantastic characters?

Greta van der Rol - June 18, 2013 - 1:07 am

I start off with characters and then I come up with a plot start point and an end point. The start and end may change, the bit in the middle is up for grabs and the characters evolve. But for me, character is what makes it work.

Mind you, the dwarf despised by his father and siblings is real and believable because of the backstory. You have to know where your characters have come from if you’re going to make their next moves convincing. I’m not suggesting that all goes in the story, but you (as the author) need to know.

I guess what I’m saying is whatever your approach, it’s worth taking the time to ground your situation and your characters in their own story. The Lord of the Rings is a great example of exactly that and it’s one of the reasons I love the book.

PJ Sharon - June 18, 2013 - 7:44 am

I almost always see the character first. She comes to me with a problem or a question. With Savage Cinderella, I was out walking my dog in the woods and started thinking about what it would have been like to grow up in the wild. An image of Brinn running through the woods came to mind. Then the questions started. Why would a young girl choose to stay in the wild? What is she afraid of? Then the kidnap story came to me. Every question I asked brought me to the next part of the story. That’s pretty much how they all start for me…a combination of character and plot.

Sandy Elzie - June 18, 2013 - 8:01 am

Hi Connie,
I start with a gem idea for a story…that old “wonder what would happen if……………….” In thinking about the “what if” I usually have an idea of the “where” (large town, small town, East U.S., West coast, etc) and then the next step for me is the “who.” This is where I decide his/her personality, then lastly, his/her appearance. (short hair, long hair, blond, redhead)

When I read, I’ll reread or discard a book on the characters…do I identify with them as they’re written? Are their choices reasonable even if not the one’s I’d make. I’ve read some books numerous times over the years because I love the people in them. (kind of like watching NCIS episodes more than once.)

Linsey Lanier - June 18, 2013 - 8:15 am

My favorite way to start a story is to open a blank page and start pantsing…just writing whatever comes to me. It’s scary and wonderful, but I couldn’t do it for a whole book. Once I run out of ideas, I stop and try to find the central conflict and figure out where that might lead. I don’t know who my characters are or what they’re like until I see them in action.

Susan Carlisle - June 18, 2013 - 8:24 am

All my romance books are character driven. Conflict and their inter feelings make them do what they do. I try to put them in a part where they will react. Hard sometimes but I’m still learning.

Constance Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 9:48 am

Greta-

I agree with you. Knowing where your characters come from make their actions believable.
I’m laughing because my third book has a great premise, but the female character came out of the ether. I didn’t know how she’d react to certain events, which made writing the story painful.

Constance Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 9:52 am

PJ-

I’ve never had a character come to me and say ‘write my story’. I’d love that to happen.

Constance Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 9:55 am

Sandy-

I have a few books in my collection that I reread because I love the characters. They have some wound that I can identify with.

Constance Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 9:57 am

Linsey-

I’m part plotter, part pantiser. I’m with you, there’s no greater feeling than having a scene that writes itself, taking you along on the ride.

Constance Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 9:59 am

You right, Susan. It’s a hard business, writing, but it’s feels so good when it all comes together.

Sonya - June 18, 2013 - 11:45 am

I start with characters and usually the plot unfolds from who they are. Great post!

Tamara LeBlanc - June 18, 2013 - 11:53 am

Connie, I love that you used Game Of Thrones as an example.
When I start a new story I always begin with character. Don’t know why, but a person’s struggle, whether it’s life threatening or simply a hard decision to make concerning a relationship is what motivate me to write. I love to write and read character driven stories. And that’s a big reason why Martin’s work appeals to me.
Have a great writing day!!
Tamara

Pamela varnado - June 18, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Connie, like Tamara, I think of a character first, then the story plot unfolds around the character. So, in my humble opinion, martin probably visualized the dwarf angle first then the rest of the story played out around him. While I sometimes forget a story’s plot and subplots, I always remember great characters.

Maxine - June 18, 2013 - 1:18 pm

Me, too or three or ?? I pretty much start with characters. Their problems or struggles and it just grows. Gosh, it is just great fun to “see it” happening and trying to get it on paper before I get stopped and have to really think through the steps.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Sonya-

“The plot unfolds from who they are.” I like that. Thanks.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 4:31 pm

Tamara, somehow I think George had a big concept, then thought of the characters that would make this concept work. He’s a great writer no matter what approach he takes. I’d loved to ask him this question. Maybe I’ll post to his website and see what happens.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Pam, that answer I gave in response to Tamara’s post was actually meant for you.

And you’re right, great characters stick with you.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 4:35 pm

Maxine-

Don’t you just love when it all comes together? It’s a high for me.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Tamara,

Martin writes such complex characters, doesn’t he?

Amy DeLuca - June 18, 2013 - 8:32 pm

Hi Connie– Great question, and so interesting to read other people’s answers. For me, the situation comes first, then the characters develop within it. Loooove Game of Thrones, too, and I’m with you. I think he must have come up with the idea first then created the perfect characters to play it out.

Hildie McQueen - June 18, 2013 - 9:12 pm

The first thing that comes to me is an idea, followed by a character, the plot comes as I write.

Connie Gillam - June 18, 2013 - 11:08 pm

Thanks, Amy and Hildie for great comments.

The two of you describe perfectly my writing style. The idea, the premise or as Amy said, ‘the situation’ comes first, then the perfect characters to carry out that premise come next. The plot unfolds once those two items are in place.

Carol Burnside / Annie Rayburn - June 19, 2013 - 1:45 am

The characters usually come to me first, or occasionally a situation with a ‘what if’ pops into my mind, but from there it’s the characters that make the idea come to life for me. Once I figure out their journey I’m writing down the bones.

Pam Asberry - June 19, 2013 - 6:08 am

It’s definitely the characters for me. My biggest problem is creating conflict; I don’t like to hurt my beloved characters, LOL!

Debbie Kaufman - June 19, 2013 - 3:38 pm

For me, I first see a character in a setting and ask myself why he or she is there. The story evolves from that point but with a lot of plotting after the first inspiration.

Anna Doll - June 20, 2013 - 7:57 pm

I think I start with a plot idea, based on characters I see in my mind. I have to know the characters well before I ever start to write. Then I type up a sort of synopsis, tweak that a bit, learn more about my characters, etc. Talk it out with critique partners, get ideas, work those into my draft synopsis. Then I pick a place to start, knowing that I may be dumping a lot of backstory into it so that I know the characters. From that point on, I let the story write itself!

Sia Huff - June 20, 2013 - 9:10 pm

Usually a strong scene comes in clear and after I write what I hear and see, I start thinking about both – Who are these people and what’s happening to them. I don’t the answer is either.

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