in which i discuss outlining characters vs. outlining plots


Hello, fellow bloggers!

This is my first time ever on a writing discussion. I’m not much of a writer myself – this is actually one of my 2019 goals. I do want to write more in 2019, and be more confident about my own writing. And though I’m just getting started, I realize that I’m much more inclined towards outlining characters than plots.

It’s not efficient to think about only one, though. Even if your book has an amazing, unique, developed plot, it won’t sustain itself if the characters aren’t great. On the other hand, no matter how fleshed out and three dimensional the characters are, you need a plot to make your story move. And reconciling them both has been a personal struggle.

This discussion will be mostly based in my own experience writing plots and characters. So, please, if you’re a writer yourself, make sure to continue the discussion in the comments.


The perks of writing characters

Writing characters is a lot more fun to me, because I am personally a very character-driven person. When reading books, I always care more about who’s doing it rather than what they’re doing. I feel like even boring books can be entertaining if you’re reading about the right people.

There’s also so many possibilities when writing characters! I never had to worry about writing a boring one, because my mind has always wandered to all places when thinking about names, personality traits, hobbies, interests. People are all so different that it is fun to explore that in your work as well. I’ve always loved thinking about all the different characteristics I could incorporate in my characters.

It’s not all fun and games, though. Your character still needs to have a development, and to grow throughout the book. Otherwise, what you’re even writing about? Characters need motivations and to remain consistent with their traits, but also be willing to adjust to the circumstances. It’s hard to understand sometimes that, even if fictional, they’re supposed to be real people, and real people are hard to deal with.


The perks of writing plots

I’ll say, though I can spend hours exploring all my character’s motivations and traits, twenty minutes into figuring out what they’re actually going to do and I’m already exhausted. Indeed, plots are easier to figure out than characters – you know from the get-go that they need to go from A to B, but to write a *good* plot… It requires a lot more work than the two sentences I tend to end up with.

A good plot, for me, consists of realistic twists & turns to keep your reader entertained. “And then they save the world” sounds fun, but you need to know how they’re going to do that. Are they going to be stopped by monsters? Or one in the group will betray them? The characters will fly in magical carpets and only save themselves? (I was listening to Aladdin’s soundtrack and it shows).

The problem with writing plots for me, is that there’s so much to think about. I wish my characters could just go and do their thing, but then I remember they’re not real people and I have to actually tell them what they’re supposed to do. You have to plan each scene, each move. It’s time-consuming, but the whole reason the book exists in the first place.


So, how to love them both?

When I first started my book’s outline, I spent hours planning the characters. I know them like the back of my hand – I’ve answered every ‘character questionnaire’, I’ve taken Buzzfeed tests as I am one of them, I memorized their Hogwarts Houses and I’ve met their parents, because we’re that serious.

But for the plot’s outline… I was constantly procrastinating it. I knew what I wanted my characters to do, and I knew how the novel ended, but the middle was such a huge slump. The things that helped me a lot were:

a) following plot guidelines – similar to character questionnaires, they’re there to help you build each scene and slowly develop them. There are quite a few ways you can do it – and I literally did all of them: the 3 arc structure, the story beats, etc.

b) thinking about each scene as a movie – I’d literally put my work’s playlist on, throw a random picture at the beginning and plot each scene as if I was watching a movie. It made it a lot easier to visualize the story and made me motivated to write more.

c) add personality into it! – Just because I’m writing an outline, doesn’t mean I can’t add some unnecessary but funny remarks. It made things a lot more interesting to me, and I wasn’t stuck to the boring structure of: “A did this. Then they went together to somewhere. B did that.” If you can add some other comments just to make the process more fun, do it!


Obviously, this is just what worked personally for my work. I know some people just find natural to write both the characters and the plot together. But if you’re more inclined to one than the other, try to make the process more fun! This way, you’ll have a more coherent outline and your characters or plot won’t feel more worked than the other.

If you’re a writer, please tell me: do you prefer creating characters or thinking about plots? And if you like one more than the other, how do you keep your motivation to work on both? Let me know in the comments!

12 comentários sobre “in which i discuss outlining characters vs. outlining plots

  1. I loved this post and I can relate to it!! I am definitely a character driven person when it comes to stories. And I really enjoy building up my characters and getting to know them. But a plot can be a bit tricky for me because I have a lot of scenes in my head but I find it hard to connect them all too.
    This post had some great tips as well– gave me some helpful things to try. I love that you did quizzes for your character!! 💛
    I think outlining the chapters helps me work towards the plot and think about the smaller details to connect it all!! 😊

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    • Thanks, Sophie!
      I relate to the struggle of connecting scenes as well. I have the bad habit of writing a couple of separate scenes, instead of focusing on a whole chapter and I guess this makes the process even hard. I am trying my best to write in chronological and linear order, as I feel like it’s a mess trying to connect them together afterwards.
      The quizzes for the characters were the most fun! I highly suggest you take them as well! It’s exciting to pretend you’re someone else and see how many different results you can get.
      Thanks so much for stopping by! 😌

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      • Yes that is exactly what I do!! I have random scenes all over the place. I recently started again this time doing chapter by chapter and I have to do it in order I have promised myself– like what you are doing!! 😊
        Yes I think I might do the quizzes it sounds really fun!!
        You’re welcome– I love your blog 💛


  2. This is such a great post! I agree that characters will hold up the story, no matter how great the plot is. I love creating characters, but sometimes I have trouble writing realistic dialogue! And even though I know *in my head* what is going to happen to them, writing what they actually do is so hard!

    Over the past few years, I have really enjoyed writing outlines for my plots. I usually focus on the main character’s motivations and emotions, because the main character is the most important. But sometimes, it is hard for me to think about the other characters in the story! I also think about my plot as if it was a movie, and that really helps!

    Personally, I guess I prefer thinking about plots, because you can have wonderful characters, but you have *nothing* without a plot! But I think it is also important to think about characters and the plot at the same time, so that you know how your characters will react to each plot situation.

    Curtido por 1 pessoa

    • Xandra, thank you so much for the comment!
      I do agree that thinking about plots and characters at the same time is very, very important. And definitely something I still struggle with!
      When an idea comes up in my head, it probably comes up as a character. Even if I have nothing but a single line as a plot, I probably already have the face of my protagonist. And I’m constantly more excited to work on this character than developing my plot and seeing what else I can get from it. I should probably try outlining my plot from my character’s motivations and seeing how different of a result I can get.
      Once again, thank you so much for sharing your experience! 💛


  3. Excellent points!

    I’m definitely a plot driven writer. I suck at characters. I try to intermingle the two together, tying important story beats with character development, and they don’t always work. Sometimes, it feels like I’m pushing chess pieces around to get them to where I need them, instead of the characters being actual characters. I feel like a puppet master, which I guess is kind of what being a writer is, but I just feel my characters lack soul.

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    • Jamie, thank you so much for sharing! It’s so interesting to see someone who has a very different writing process than mine. I’m sure you’ve tried them before, but the character questionnaires always help me get a sense of who my characters really are before I start writing. Maybe that would help!
      Once again, thank you so much for sharing! ☺️

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