What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
I’m not sure if I’ve answered this before but, if I have, the chances are I got it wrong. This is a loaded question that doesn’t give all the options.
Character is certainly important because we go to fiction to meet those remarkable characters who make us love fiction. From Jeeves and Wooster through to Pratchett’s Death or Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter: we read fiction to meet these remarkable people.
However, plot is equally important because the concatenation of circumstances that take characters from the start of a journey to its conclusion are essential to our enjoyment of the story. Remove plot from any of the stories involving the aforementioned characters and you have a story about Bertie Wooster coming home drunk and Jeeves serving him a hangover cure, or a story where Death does his laundry, or a story where Dexter files his tax returns.
But, for me, more important than character or plot, is the author’s way of telling a story. The best character in the world is going to stay closed inside the pages of a book if the author isn’t capable of telling a compelling story. Perhaps part of the reason why Sherlock Holmes stills remains so popular is not just because he’s a fascinating character who participates in some engaging stories: but it’s because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle narrated him so well.
Enid Blyton’s characters are two-dimensional, and her plots are formulaic, but her storytelling got me (and countless others) into the world of reading. Agatha Christie gave us remarkable characters with Marple and Poirot, and inventive murder mysteries for both of them: yet it’s her abilities as a storyteller that have made her writing live on.
Which is my way of saying that, whilst plot and character are both important: the voice of the storyteller is most importantest.