If you’re a writer, what’s your favorite part of writing a story–and how do you make an element your favorite?
How about character?
I always like to focus when I’m starting a new book on determining who my protagonists are going to be. What are you going to do to them in your story, and how will they deal with it in a way that makes you, and your readers, care?
If you do it right, characters are a shoo-in for being your favorite part of your story.
So how do you decide on your characters? So much about who your protagonists are depends on the kind of story you’re writing.
If it’s a romance, you can imagine even as you start thinking about your story who you’d like your hero and heroine to be. What will make them attracted to one another? Their appearances? Sure. But there’s got to be more. Something about the personality of each of them will draw the other. But there also must be differences and flaws so they’ll not run into one another’s arms at the very beginning but fight their attraction till the end, and the happily-ever-after.
There are as many different kinds of characters as there are real people. It’s so easy for a writer to fall in love with their human creations… and that’s half the fun of writing about them!
So… yes, a writer’s favorite part of a story can be its characters.
But wait! There’s also plot.
Do you love figuring out what happens to your main characters, and why? How does that plot develop in a way that keeps you writing and will keep readers reading? Oh, yeah, if you have the most fun deciding what will happen in your story, then plot can be your favorite element.
Your plot depends a lot on what you’re writing–what genre or subgenre. Plus, there are different ways of plotting. Let’s say the story is romance, yes–but romantic suspense. Now you have the fun of figuring out even before you begin not only who your characters are and what their characteristics are that keep them apart, but also the external factors, like danger, that they additionally have to overcome. That danger can make them work together, fight together… make love together. So plotting a romantic suspense story can really be enjoyable.
Or make it a mystery. Yes, there can be a romantic interest there, but the focus on that kind of plot has to be on figuring out what the mystery is–a murder, or something else? And if someone is killed, who and why–and how will your protagonist figure that out? It has to be over the course of the story, and plotting it out can be lots of fun.
Yes, plot, too, can be a writer’s favorite part of a story.
Then there’s setting.
It’s important in the development of both the characters and the plot. In fact, location can be a character unto itself. And just think of how much fun you can have if you decide on someplace far from home… and just have to take the time and effort to go research it!
Okay, maybe it’s too far and too expensive. But there’s always the Internet to help. So, location as a favorite part of a story? Sure!
For example, a story set in Alaska, like my Harlequin Nocturne ALASKAN WOLF, may have similarities to others in the Alpha Force miniseries about a covert military unit of shapeshifters, but the atmosphere is quite different from the others such as the first story, ALPHA WOLF, set in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or the newest one, UNDERCOVER WOLF, set in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park. In my Pet Rescue Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime, and the series from which it spun off–my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery series–nearly all the stories are set in Los Angeles where I live. L.A. becomes a character of sorts, too, and helps the stories develop.
Okay, what else can be your favorite part of a story?
That’s up to you. But you can also have fun with minor characters and subplots. They each help to support the protagonists and keep the stories going. For example, in my Harlequin Nocturne miniseries, the protagonists of one story may become supporting characters in subsequent ones. That’s because, the main characters are always the hero and heroine in romances, but the covert Alpha Force military unit remains the background for all the stories. And in my Pet Rescue Mysteries, I usually have something else going on besides the murder mystery, often involving–what else?–rescuing pets.
What part of a story I’m writing is my favorite?
Usually it’s a combination of factors, that can often change. Mostly, I like to get to know my characters, get them talking to me about who they are and how they want to address whatever is going on in the story. And they do talk to me–usually when it’s late at night and I’m taking a bath or lying in bed. I always have pen and note cards so I can jot down what they tell me.
They’re all different. Lauren Vancouver, protagonist of my Pet Rescue Mysteries, is quite different in her outlook and activities from her predecessor Kendra Ballantyne, from my Pet-Sitter Mysteries. The various characters in my Alpha Force Nocturnes are always unique, and yet many–but not all–of them have the common trait of being shape shifters. And, yes, the werewolves talk to me, too.
So… do you know, starting out, what your favorite part of what you’re writing will be? Or does it come to you as you’re writing?
Is everything equally fun? You know, as I reread this, it’s pretty clear that everything is entwined (as if I didn’t know!). So maybe you have a favorite element and concentrate on it as you write, but each other element must fit with it for your story to work. Keep that in mind as you both plan and write.
Now, how about you as a reader: what’s your favorite part of reading a story?
Linda O. Johnston is the author of 31 published novels, with more to come. She currently writes the Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, a spinoff series from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries, also for Berkley . The first Pet Rescue Mystery, BEAGLEMANIA, is part of the Penguin Group’s Read Humane Program promoting animal rescue and the Humane Society of the U.S. , and its spokesperson is Nora Roberts. The second Pet Rescue Mystery THE MORE THE TERRIER, was an October 2011 release, and the third, HOUNDS ABOUND, was an April 2012 release.
Linda additionally writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne–the Alpha Force miniseries about a covert military unit of shapeshifters, and her first Harlequin Romantic Suspense, UNDERCOVER SOLDIER, is a July 2012 release.
Such a prolific writer! This was an enlightening post–thanks!
When you first asked the question about my favorite part of writing, the first thing that came to me was writing a captivating first sentence. When I’ve done that, I feel like the book is off and running. As a reader, that’s what I look for, too–a first sentence that draws me in and makes me want to keep reading. A tease, if you will.
All the rest of what you mention: characters, plot, setting–yes they are vital. but without that POW! of a beginning, I would never get to all of those (as a reader, at least).
Writing “the perfect” simple but unforgettable last sentence is really fun and important, too. Invite the reader into the book with an offer they can’t resist and escort them out so that they keep thinking about where they’ve just been…
How true, Lorna! The first sentence is all-important to any kind of story. It makes the writer want to keep writing and the reader want to keep reading. And the last sentence–excellent. Happily-ever-after or not… And it’s especially important in a series. Thanks for your comment!
As a reader, it’s the plot twists that make a story interesting.
Plot twists are definitely a good reason to keep reading, Jo–and writing, too!
I am usually filled with great excitement as I describe the characters and the details of their lives that connect them to the plot. My genre is usually free verse poetry , but I am currently working on two novels that are exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have had published seven books of free verse poetry, and I must say , every time I exercise my God given talent I am filled with unbridled joy!
How fun that you’re a poet, Everett–and a novelist, too. And the fact that you enjoy writing makes it all even better!
I guess it never occurred to me to write poetry and novels until it happened . Although one doesn’t interfere with the other , I can forsee the day when a situation in a novel I’m writing could lead to a book of poetry!
My love affair is always with the characters, first. If I’m not intrigued by them, I can’t spend the months of work it takes to find things for them to do (plot is my hard part.) But settings are big favorites, too.
Thanks, Linda, never really thought about it this way!
I hope your characters talk to you as mine do to me, Laura. And that you have fun with your settings as well.
Linda, there has been an on-going discussion here on WITS as to which comes first and do we fly by the seat of our pants or plot out before we set out on a new journey. BTW … love meeting someone who stands as a living testament for writers who want to do it all … romance, mystery, suspense, paranormal and the dead partridge in the pear tree … poisoned on Christmas Eve no doubt 🙂 Thanks for that and this post.
I live with characters in my head, they are like old letters stuffed in the back drawer of your desk … they have been my companions, my friends, my worst enemies. I meet and greet them in all walks of life and like a fool and talk out loud to them. However, I could not answer your question.
A trick question if you think about it. Why? Because I love it all. I love the characters and the ideas I have to plot out situations for them. I love, love settings and adore all my supporting characters and love the fantasy that when the time comes that I publish my mystery series, those supporting characters and settings will be as important to my readers as they are to me. Thanks so very much for a thoughtful post 🙂
In case you couldn’t tell, Florence, I love all the elements in my writing, too, and also have fun switching genres. If you’re a writer, you can do anything! At least in your stories…
Everything speaks to me when writing : characters, plot, locations , mood…I love the way I become one with my character , to the degree that I cannot wait to resume writing when the Spirit moves me.
When I was young people who knew I was a voracious reader would ask what kind of books I liked? What KIND? The kind with words, that’s what kind!
Over 50 years as a reader and 10 as a writer I’ve realized that what drives me to write or draws me as a reader is a main character who can be tempted. A character with a strong will, a definite moral fiber, and yet, circumstances conspire to make him or her consider betraying themselves. Put them in a little Irish village, a seedy apartment on the lower east side, a 15th century castle or the galactic empire in the year 5213 and I’m sucked in.
Archie Goodwin, in the Nero Wolfe stories. All of Dick Francis’ main characters. Philip Marlow, big time. These guys are all moral icons — except, sometimes, you wonder if they’re about to go off the rails.
What? Oh, no, I don’t think so. This isn’t about me at all. You must be mistaken.
Hmmm, you do sound like a bit of a character yourself, Joel! But isn’t it fun to create others and stick them into situations they find difficult? And somehow, they always find a way to deal with those situations.
One of the reasons I love to write is it sets me free, free to create any character or situation I desire. Writing lets one leave the world of endless limitations, placing one in a limitless universe of thought and creation.
Oh, I’m with Joel – I so miss Dick Francis. I don’t even care for mysteries (can I say that on Lind’s blog?) but I went to him for the horses, and stayed for the wonderful characters, and plots.
Joel, after Dick Francis died, his son wrote one mystery in the same genre. I do miss the old noir and old school mystery writers and bought and read all of Dick Francis. I also own a great anthology with three Nero Wolfe mysteries 🙂
I love the discovery. Once I have the idea for the story and the basic characters and I put them together, they morph into something else and I discover what is really unique about them. Rolling off of Joel’s comment, it’s true. If my hero has a strong moral fiber, always takes the high road, my heroine will always give him a reason to compromise himself, usually to a revelation that perhaps his road was so high, he missed the turnoff.
I really enjoy communicating with my characters, too, Katina–and letting them create some of the tension and conflicts in the story that I didn’t anticipate at first!
I love making up the plot and the characters as well. I always look forward to “making my story clear” in the end:)) http://pralinkablogs.blogspot.cz/
Those satisfying endings are always fun to write, Pralinka, whether or not there’s a “happily ever after” involved.
Great post, Linda.
Like Laura, my first love are my characters. They are the reason I’m sitting and staring at a stupid blinking cursor for hours on end. I’m a lost-cause with plotting so it’s bizarre to say that I love unwrapping the plot (Maybe I should say, I like having my characters unwrap the plot). And setting … I can spend hours dreaming about setting! 🙂
Thanks, Orly! Oh, yes, a good setting is always so fun to think about–and visit, if appropriate. I hope your characters understand how important a good plot is while they’re helping you put one together.
I’m all about the characters too. The first line of book being important was mentioned and I agree that it is. I discovered something interesting. Many times if my first line is so-so, I’m not starting the book in the right place.
It’s the process: losing my sense of locale and time and my place in them. It’s that thrill when something is working, be it character, plot, geography, or choreography. It’s titles, dialogue, backstory, narrative, action. It’s the feedback from happy readers. It’s doing something that I feel privileged to do and share. And more…..
Good point, Sharla!
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It’s hard for me to pinpoint what my favorite part of writing is, because it can change throughout the process. Once I have the story and characters worked out, I enjoy the process of writing the first draft, but I also can get into revising and editing to make the story shine. And, once accepted by the publishing house, I enjoy seeing my newly designed cover and the finished book released at the publisher’s site. Guess it’s safe to say, it’s all good!
I think my favorite part of my stories are my characters, specifically the hero. I always seem to focus on my hero from the start when the story idea begins percolating. I get his character, his goals and conflicts down pretty quickly. Maybe it’s because I love to hear that strong, masculine voice whispering in my ear in the bath. Hmmmm. . .
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I love my characters – I just have to keep from delving TOO far into them. ON one story I was actually figuring out how the grandparents met, and had to take a step back and ask myself, “Woah, is this vital to the story, or am I stalling?” Also love writing dialogue.