My books always start with a character or character(s). I create or find a cool character and I want to know more about them. I want to share them with other people and hope they find my character(s) as cool as I do. So far, I have three writing projects, each of them started because I wanted to know more about a particular character:
Poison in the Mind started with a character I played in a game. I know, I know. Stories based on games are almost always bad, however I couldn’t get the character, Galen Gerhardt, out of my head. Galen is a mindbender, someone who can control other people’s thoughts. He both hates and is addicted to the use of this power. He’s an escaped slave…maybe. There’s a lot of evidence that his memories have been tampered with, so even he doesn’t know what is true and what is not. And now he has to face down an ancient Death God and with the help of some companions (each with stories of their own), who claims it’s Galen’s fate to serve him. And he may just be right. Here I’m letting the characters drive the plot, not the game they played in. Right now, all game events except two have been thrown out the window and one of them’s trying to scootch away from the frame. Plus, I’ve had requests from other players to write their character’s story. I might do it too, if I can finish my own.
Lucifer’s Godchild also started with a game character who grew from a PC into an NPC and now into a fiction character. With each iteration, Rafe Fraizer, has mutated and changed to fit the demands of the current story. Starting as a street punk mage just out of his apprenticeship, he’s grown into a thousand-year-old jaded wizard, exiled to the mortal world by his faery consort and desperate to regain her good graces and return to Faery. But the kicker for me was when I realized that Rafe couldn’t be the viewpoint character for his own story. Because it turned out, it wasn’t his story to tell, it was that of his unwanted assistant, a transwoman named Sally Neighbors. NaNoWriMo 2013 project.
His Very Jewel was an exception for me, as the character who inspired me was an actual, historical person. I began an obsessive research binge on anything Tudor, especially the wives of Henry VIII. Plus, I liked the idea about writing a book that my mother (who loves historical fiction) might like to read. And I have a tendency to take maligned characters and give them a human face. In this case, it was Henry’s reviled fifth wife, Katherine Howard, that took my fancy. I wanted to try a hand at historical fiction; I wanted to portray a female character; I wanted to write about someone who’s life is pretty well known so that I didn’t have to make up a lot of “filler” events. Since my primary historical interest is Anglo-Saxon, I’ve been continuing my Tudor research binge. NaNoWriMo 2014 project.
So I’ve got these great characters with interesting and rich histories, who seem to go absolutely nowhere, plot-wise. Why? Because in each case, I’ve realized I have no antagonists. It tend to define their antagonists in general terms. Actually, in two of them, I have an antagonist: Galen has the Ancient Death God (cue booming voice here) and Katherine’s life has a perfect man to villainize. But my problem seems to be I don’t know how to make use of antagonists; I have a terrible time figuring out exactly they do to become the villains that they are. And what my protagonists do to counter them.
If I were GMing any of these stories as a game, I throw the situation out to my players and watch them run with it. As a GM, all I have to do is think of a great character, think of an impossible situation and throw my PCs into, then just react to what they do. But it doesn’t seem to work so well when I get to fiction. When I throw them into my situation, they just sit there on the page. I’ve got great books on writing character, on writing plot, scenes, dialogue…. But I’ve yet to see a book on creating great antagonists.
What about you? What comes first for you: character or plot? Or something else? How do you create antagonists and then how do you use them to create your story and then your plot?