Sharon L. Clark, Author

Writing Process: Which Came First?

A friend asked recently how I go about writing my stories. Do I create characters and build the story around them? Or is the plot first, building the characters to fit into the situation?

Every author I know goes about writing differently. One friend starts with a rough idea, builds a music playlist, and then lets it inspire the direction of the plot. Another uses Scrivener and works out each character and scene before she writes a sentence. A couple others create their outlines in a linear order, another uses a snowflake type of format, spiraling out from one point, building on each idea and connecting from one to another.

And they are all perfect, valid ways to write a story.

My upcoming novel, I’ll Call You Mine, started from people-watching and letting my imagination form personalities for various folks who passed by me. One such person kept catching my attention, and I was curious about how he might behave in certain situations.

Another of my stories started from a wandering thought I had as I struggled to fall asleep; how would I react if I were to hear the closet door slide open in a house I knew to be haunted, when I was absolutely not in the mood for any nonsense?

So, a little bit of both for me, it seems.

All of my stories sort of spiral out from a first point, sometimes character-driven, sometimes plot-diven. When you have an inquisitive imagination in overdrive, the stories will be told, no matter how they start. If the character comes first, I need to know what led to them being who they are. If the plot is the initial point, how would different people behave in that situation?

Then I just sit back and go along for the ride. And that is the most fun.

Do you have a formula for story building? How do your ideas manifest for you? Leave a comment or send me an email and let’s talk!



Have You Met…Sharon Clark, Author


  1. Sebadee

    I have always found “process” interesting, which would explain why I read your article. What are our drivers when launching a creative project? A certain sense of frustration that we seek to satisfy? For me, as someone who does not know how to write creatively, it starts with curiosity.

    Curiosity about the state of mind that exists in someone in order for them to behave in the certain way they do. My example would be Vivian Maier. I’ve read two books about her, yet my curiosity remains unsated. She had a quality that I have found impossible to define. Basically, she had attitude! It gave her the tools that allowed her to take the pictures she was able to take. Yet still, I want to know more. I want to be inside her head but have yet to find a way.

    My question to you would be, is there not something quasi-mystical in your approach to writing? Yes, it is you that is writing the words that others will read yet there seems at times to be a second voice providing thoughts and phrases that come from without. You can, at times, be surprised by characters, that you have created, do and say. Does this make sense?

    • YES. That absolutely makes sense! I used to roll my eyes at authors who said that the characters drive the story – literally. That they get surprised by the turn the story takes or by actions of the characters.

      Until I started writing in earnest.

      I start out with a rough idea and some rough characters, and just start going. It’s almost like the words just flow from my fingers without my conscious thought. There are times, of course, that the words WON’T come, but those are few and far between. Generally, I know that if I get to a point where I can’t move the story forward, where the characters are digging in their heels and refusing to DO things, I know that the story has veered off course. So I backtrack to the last major decision and change it. That invariably unblocks the characters.

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