Another Writing Rest Stop

Hope all of us end this year with wonderful Christmas festivities, followed by a coming year of health, happiness, and good cheer!

On the writing front, I’m still rambling down the writing-road and stopping at another rest stop to do some writing-pondering. Here’s the back story of how and why for this stop. First off, I have a guilty confession—I’ve indulgently watched every Midsomer Murders episode many time. Have on DVDs, consequently I can binge-watch whenever!

The other night, on the DVD I was watching, there was a bonus interview with Carolyn Graham, the creator of Barnaby and the murder mystery series books. During the interview she talks about creating, writing, and thought processes involved in writing in general and this series in particular. And one of the things she emphases in the interview is characters! Of course, music to my ears. For her, the plot comes from the people she creates. Characters come first…then the story.

If you are familiar with the series, there are a lot of characters in every episode—brought to life by outstanding British actors—and they are mostly people you like (a few you don’t}—and among both is a murderer (and you have the fun of figuring out out which one of these quirky characters “done it”)

Then in Maggie King’s excellent post last week, she made what I consider an outstanding statement. “That’s why I write. It keeps me out of prison and my victim(s) safe. And I can create interesting characters I’d never want to know off the page.”

I’ve talked about characters a lot—but Carolyn’s interview brought a new point of view—start with the characters to develop the plot. I’ve mostly started with the story, and created characters I thought fit. And I started with a need to like the characters. Even the murderer, I’ve “liked” on some level. But what about some characters I don’t like. Not sure I can do..?

So/but, I’m starting anew with my latest, Mojave Gáteau–which will come from character development, not plot development. This may not sound like a big deal—but for me, it’s a whole turn around. And I’m writing all these thoughts here because, just maybe, thinking about character and plot evolution might be something of interest in your own writing?

And for us readers, can we tell a difference? I’ve looking over my recently read books and taking a look to see if I can—I’m guessing not.

Thank you Carolyn and Maggie!

All thoughts are welcome!

Happy Writing Trails

20 thoughts on “Another Writing Rest Stop”

  1. Well , that was a big mouth-full to digest, and well worth it, thanks. I do enjoy the Midsummer series but sometimes there are too many characters to keep track of and too few clues to the killer. Nevertheless, the show is a charmer. As authors, it can be surprising to discover where your characters lead you. In my second book I began to like the person I decided would be be the killer. The more I wrote her, the more she showed me how to exonerate her. I plan to keep the woman around for future plots.
    Happy holidays, all.
    jill

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    1. Jill, I too sometimes find too many characters hard to keep track of and sometimes quite distracting! What helps with Midsumer is I also just enjoy the actors performing period. Love that you ended up liking your killer character and are keeping her around. I have on character like that, Chatter-man, but a story he fits hasn’t popped in mind. Mmmm, to my post’s point, a character and no plot…

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  2. We remember characters. Think: Scrooge, Anne of Green Gables, Holden Caulfield, Scarlett O’Hara, Ramona, Dumbledore, Scout Finch, Miss Marple. A character’s voice, personality, desires and circumstance plus conflict create the plot.

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  3. Ah, the writers dilemma. Which comes first? The Philosophy course I took in college on Aristotle helped me with that question. Aristotle and I agree Plot comes first because without it we just have some cool people standing around doing nothing. But when we take that Plot and then enhance those Characters so they come alive in the story and run with the plot we have devised, we have gold. And to do that well, we have to give those people great Dialogue that brings out their character even better and advances that plot. And we pick a Setting that makes the book come alive. You, Madeline, are a master at Setting and Character, so I know Aristotle would approve. We wrap it all up with The Point of the story and we have what Aristotle wrote in The Poetics. I look for all 5 Basic Elements in stories I read and the ones I write. That Aristotle guy was a great teacher.

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    1. Oh Gayle, how could I ignore Aristotle, or YOU(smile)! Balancing all the writing balls is tricky sometimes, I think, but I’m still interested in pursuing and improving my “juggling act!” And inline with Aristotle, plot jumps into my mind first on it’s own, then follow the characters…but I so enjoy Carolyn Graham’s stories, I’m trying to integrate some of her thoughts. Thanks for your as always informative comments!

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      1. Mad, When characters are well written, they are magic. That’s why we love Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. I would never write a story without a knock-out character.

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  4. I, too, love Midsomer Murders and enjoy the quirky characters. I think interesting characters make all the difference – no matter how clever the plot twists. And I always enjoy your ‘ramblings’ Mad, keep on doing what you’re doing,

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  5. Your thought-provoking post poses the classic chicken and egg dilemma: which comes first? For me they begin working in tandem, a someone to whom something happens, such as a young girl who’s away from her village when it’s attacked. Then it proceeds ahead, a step at a time, one foot followed by the other, like plot and character (or character and plot).

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    1. Yes, Miko, if you’ve got an event to hold on to or tie your characters to or develop a plot line around–it sure does help. A line of thought which has sent me down a new path of development…thanks, Miko!

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  6. In my first novel, I THINK I came up with the characters first, and the plot followed. After that, plot first. But, as Miko pointed out, both work in tandem.

    I love being sharing a thanks with Carolyn Graham! Midsomer is one of the best of the many good shows we’re lucky to have at the click of a remote.

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    1. Yes, Maggie…I feel very lucky in the availability of programs and having a remote arena too…and I’m a big TV watcher in my old age(smile) Speaking of remotes, I remember the days of having to get up and change the channels on the!(smile again)

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  7. It varies in my stories whether they’re triggered by characters, including dogs, or plot ideas. It’s always enjoyable hearing what ‘s most important to other writers, and I really enjoyed this post!

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  8. Good point, Linda, about the flexibility…thinking now, not being rigid in your approach is most appropriate? I might be questioning the whole proposition for rules when it comes to creative writing? Hmmm… But still believe there are some “good” approaches and some not so good. Thanks for your further thought provoking comment, Linda!

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  9. I love plot (story) and am always wowed at how some writers can twist events/secrets/revelations to write a book you can’t put down. Characters are important too, and I do get attached to them, especially in a series. Setting is crucial for me – I read 24 books this summer/fall based on setting alone (places’s we’d visited on our cruise.) Do that sometime, it’s fascinating! (In a way, Madeline, your Route 66 books are like that.)

    But above all else is the actual evocative writing that some authors can do. In some books (very few, I admit) I have to stop and re-read a phrase or sentence or even a paragraph because it is so beautiful! (Yes, even in mysteries) It’s hard to explain, and I suppose it’s subjective, different for everyone. One book I bought for setting, affected me that way – Haunted Magpie by Anna Nichols. And our own Rosemary Lord (at least in her blog posts) writes that way too. You just feel soothed inside.

    (I just read a phrase in a Mary Stewart book – Thornyhold – that stopped me like that. You can say… the wind blew through the stalks of grain… or the wind rippled the wheat… or, like she said it about a little girl sitting among them, “the stalks of white and gold, and taller than I was, stirred and swayed above my head as if combed through by a strong breeze.” The wind combing… Subjective, I know.)

    Thanks Madeline for stirring up thoughts of reading books in this clutterd mind of mine!

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    1. PS: We used to watch Midsomer Murders too, even with the change of actors of Barnaby, but after a while we realized that most of the killers were clergymen (women). Really? It got so that in the first 10-15 minutes we already knew the bad guy. (Sigh)

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  10. I love this post! I happen to be a Midsomer Murders fan too. I am going to track down that interview. I’ve always felt that “character is plot” so this makes me feel quite chipper. Now that I live in a tiny village in the English countryside I can tell you for sure that there are plenty of characters around here who spark a plot or two — and most definitely a murder! (In fiction, of course).

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  11. If you can’t find the interview, Hannah, let me know and I’ll try to find on the dvd I have that interview on…I can just imagine how wonderful it must be to be living in a little English village! And so glad to hear there ARE real Midsomer characters out there…not all imaginary…

    So glad you liked this post, I’m always wondering if my ramblings are worthwhile to anyone besides myself!(smile)

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