Friday, August 6, 2010

Setting, Plot, Character or Theme?

The creative process seems to be quite varied.  I find it fascinating how differently writers think about their projects in the initial stages.

* Some writers start with a theme in mind and craft a story to convey a particular message, such as protecting the environment or warding off Communism.

*Others start out with a great idea for a plot suggested by something they've seen or heard, like a news item about a man lost in the Alaskan wilderness who miraculously survives, or a funny story about a friend's disastrous vacation.

"The Other Bolelyn Girl" was inspired by a ship named "The Mary Bolelyn."  Author Philippa Gregory came across it in some reseach she was doing on naval vessels during the Tudor period.  Curious, Gregory dug deeper and discovered that Mary was the sister of Ann Bolelyn, who had an affair with Henry VII and reportedly bore him two children. She couldn't believe Mary's story had never been told.  Mary Bolelyn was so utterly unknown that it never occurred to the author that she was related to Ann Bolelyn until she did the research.  How's that for a precious nugget?

* Still other authors spy an interesting person who suggests a colorful character, and the story builds from there.  Hercule Poirot, for example, was based on a gentleman whom Agatha Christie observed eating in a restaurant.  His particular appearance and manners inspired numerous books about the famous Belgian detective who solves crimes using his "little gray cells."

* Other authors start with setting.  C.S.Lewis started "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" based on a mental image of a streetlamp in the middle of a snowy woods.  I must confess I'm a setting gal. I start with the atmosphere and mood suggested by a particular place, then add people and events to the story.

So, what inspires you first: Setting, Plot, Character or Theme?
Take the poll on the sidebar and share your thoughts with us.


  1. For me it's what if?

    What if you went out on to your roof terrace and found a man asleep there?

    What if, in an icy London, you had just what you stood up in, no identity, and were being hunted by the authorities?

  2. For me, it's usually a nugget of an idea. That idea can be anything from a character to a plot point. Usually it's a plot point. That's how it was for the second book I wrote and for the one I'm world-building on right now.

    With the one I'm editing it was an idea for a mythology. Things just kind of grew from there and I came upon my plot that way.

    Very interesting post.

  3. I've been inspired by books, people, a blend of conversations, TV shows. It depends on the manuscript. Sometimes it's a first line that makes me wonder what it will be about.

    Interesting to read other authors' processes.

  4. usually an idea inspires me, but it can also come from seeing one picture and wondering what kind of story goes with it.

  5. It's usually plot with me, but sometimes characters too. Setting, once in a while. I rarely have a specific theme in mind. Great post!

  6. I've been inspired by a lot of different things - sometimes an incident I've witnessed, a nugget of info I've read, a person walking down the street. Oftentimes, I'm inspired by reading a book or story or seeing a movie.

    Usually though my stories start with a person, a character in a situation. X,Y, Z is happening how would person A react? Sometimes I kind of start with setting in that I "see" a place and then place someone there and begin their story.

  7. My story ideas usually come from dreams, but one came from fascination with ancient Rome (so setting, I guess). Interesting post - I thought Mary Boleyn was a made up sister of Ann when I first heard about this book; was surprised too to discover she was a real person.


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