The Chicken & Egg Are Scratching Their Heads

We all know the classic question of the chicken and the egg. It’s perhaps the most overused analogy known to man. And who really cares, anyway, right? But this isn’t a blog about food or joke telling; it’s a blog about literature and writing. So why even bring it up?

Simple: as we write, we develop two things — characters and plot. But which comes first? When I was writing my novel Absolute Authority (currently under consideration by a couple publishers), I started out with my main character, who sat in my head, bored, for three years before I figured out what to do with him. I had his back story all figured out, his occupation, his family, his likes/dislikes, his hair color, even the kind of house he lived in. But I had nowhere to put him. He had no meaning in his life. He just sat around in my head, chewing his fingernails, waiting for me to engage him in some sort of plot (which ended up as a double meaning when the book finally played out). Finally, I wrote the prologue — which, ironically, didn’t involve my main character — and then began to script the story, chapter by chapter…until I hit a wall about 300 pages in. I had three different plot lines, classic thriller techniques, a story that seemed exciting to me. All the elements of a great book. But I had no idea how to end it. How was it all going to come together? Finally, one day, sitting in my favorite leather chair at Java Journey, sipping yet another cappuccino, the proverbial light came on and I was able to quickly wrap it all into a tidy little package, resolve the plot lines, and race to the climax, followed by what I hope will be a satisfactory ending. I was so amped that I even wrote the Acknowledgements section.

But would that have all been easier if I’d plotted out the whole book before I started? Or did I need the character development along the way to dictate where the story flowed? Would I have ended it differently? Would the characters and plot have turned out the same way?

The secondary issue is: what about the sequel? I already have most of the characters already established in the first book. So does that mean the sequel will be more plot-driven?

I’m interested in hearing your feedback, especially from those of you have struggled with the same dilemma.


3 thoughts on “The Chicken & Egg Are Scratching Their Heads

  1. I start with characters’ goals and motivations, David, plus a story idea (premise) that I tweak into a working synopsis. After firming up my story in the synopsis, I then use Evan Marshall’s plan to map out (plot) every section of my novel before I write. I’ve cut the writing time, from first chapter to final, in half, quarters, using this strategy. It works.

    1. I looked up Evan Marshall’s plan, as I was not familiar with it, and found the method quite interesting. I may have to invest a little money. Do you use the software?

  2. I sort of started with an idea, a weird abstract one and then tried to think how that could fit around a character. Then I decided the ending. I don’t know; it was kind of a mess that all appeared at the same time. I know I’m not being particularly helpful, but maybe there’s no way of doing it right? I doubt it’s ever easy, maybe it just happens when it happens and you have to grab it when it comes floating by!

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