What comes first, the plot or characters?
This is a chicken or the egg question. An interesting plot needs to be populated by characters who intrigue us. But intriguing characters need to be introduced to us through an interesting plot. Great characters with no plot is going to be boring. A fantastic plot with dull characters is going to be equally dull.
As to which comes first, for me it all depends on the story I’m trying to tell. Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a character who would be fun to write and entertaining to read. Then, to give that character the best chance at being successful, I have to set about creating exactly the right plot for him/her. By the same notion, if I get an idea for compelling plot, I then have to decide what sort of character is going to work best in this story.
This is a brief piece from Cursed with a character I enjoyed creating who fits neatly into this part of the story:
There were shadows at the base of the clocktower. At this time on a winter’s evening, with the first of the ten o’clock chimes ringing out through Innsmouth’s empty town centre, shadows were not unexpected. But, for anyone paying close attention, anyone watching the dark shapes that came and went of their own volition, the shadows would have seemed darker around the base of the clocktower on this occasion.
Derek Brown, lost in his own thoughts as he took Horatio on his evening constitutional, had not noticed the shadows. It was a cold night and, not for the first time, the threat of rain made him wish to Christ his wife’s French Bulldog would hurry up and do its business so he could get back home. Horatio was not the brightest dog he’d ever encountered and this nightly walk was always made tiresomely protracted because Horatio needed to sniff every lamppost, piddle at least three hundred times, and take one shit that was slightly larger than the turds that Derek could produce. On top of that, with Horatio being a chunky little bastard, who waddled more than he walked, the nightly constitutional took forever.
“Is this what my life’s come to?” he wondered, glaring down at the dog.
Horatio had paused to take his last shit of the day and it was never a pleasant experience to watch. With his bulging eyes, which always seemed to bulge further when he was straining to squeeze one out, Horatio reminded Derek of his wife. The idea that a pet could look like its owner was never truer than when Horatio was standing on a street corner with his fat arse trembling, his eyes bulging like chapel hat pegs and an expression of stupid surprise on his tubby face as though he didn’t know what was happening. Derek had often thought it was like having his wife with him on the walk, except with less inane chatter and slightly more outdoor defecating. He repeatedly told himself he’d take a picture of this moment when it occurred so that he could post it on FaceBook, alongside a picture of her, and ask his friends to spot the difference.
And this evening, to his surprise, Horatio was providing him with the perfect moment. It was almost as though the fat, simple dog had decided to pose for the shot.
Derek snatched the mobile from his jacket pocket and opened the camera app. It was set on selfies when the screen opened and he found his own pudgy, gammon-coloured features being displayed on the screen. Recoiling only a little, he pressed the button to turn the camera around and found himself staring down at Horatio as the dog stared up at him.
With the eyes bulging, the tongue lolling out over a double-chin, and a facial expression that looked like it had found three consecutive answers on a word search puzzle and was bursting to boast about the achievement, the shitting Horatio could have been his wife’s twin. Admittedly, one of them had a little more facial hair than the other, but Derek thought that was such a small distinction it was close to being negligible.
He snapped three pictures in short succession, chuckling softly to himself as he anticipated the repercussions of sharing this picture with friends. Horatio, clearly unimpressed with being photographed in the middle of a relatively private act, shied away from Derek. It was an abrupt lurch that caught Derek by surprise. One moment he was taking pictures of a shitting dog whilst holding its leash and chuckling to himself. The next moment the leash had been pulled from his hand, Horatio was waddling toward the clocktower, and Derek watched his phone, pulled out of his hand, land on the freshly laid turd that Horatio had deposited.
Cursed is currently available for pre-order and will be released on March 1st 2021.