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Which Is More Important Plot or Character?

Today is Nov. 14, almost halfway through the month, and I have written 32, 398 words to date, so I should be more than half-way through the novel.  Writing my first novel for NaNoWriMo doesn’t make me an expert writer, but I am learning along the way.  So I wanted to share some of my thinking as I am going through this project.

SFW misc Benches 2

Did I give away my answer as to which is most important in my book?  To be honest, when I started I thought characters were more important to the story.  Without characters, it’s hard to have a plot.  I had to decide whether they were young or old, male or female before I could decide what they would do.  In this situation, I went with what I know best because I only have a month, and that isn’t enough time to do any extensive research.

After I determined three main characters, I still didn’t have a clear picture of what I thought my characters would do.  They were single women in their sixties, but I didn’t want to write a murder mystery like Murder She Wrote.  I chose romance, which, of course, I read – lots.

2013 BOV Quilt Show113cr

I googled plots, and came up with one blog that was especially helpful to outline your plot.  I cut and pasted this outline into my Character/Plot page, and I refer to it frequently as I write.  I edit things in and out as the characters change their own lives.  The blogger’s words are italicized.  I coded my characters using different headings so you can tell who is who.  There is a different plot for the three characters, so it was essential for me to keep them separate and develop a plot for each of them.

Act One: First 25%

0-10% – Stage One: The Setup: The protagonist is fully in his identity. He isn’t trying to change his life yet, even if he feels something is wrong. Often he doesn’t yet realize something is wrong. Then along comes an…

This was helpful to me because I realized that the person couldn’t be too self-aware, even at age 60+.  They might know they have a problem, but they don’t think of it as a handicap.  Or maybe they know it’s a handicap, but their real handicap is something else that they consider a source of pride in their character.

Here is how I started using this plot template.  The three characters, friends for 30 years from a small church that closed 10 years ago, have gone different directions, yet remain close friends.

Ann, a 65-year-old widow, whose long-time husband died of cancer is not looking for love.  She is shy, and doesn’t want to make the first move.  She also has a spoiled son, and  this may cause her some problems as well when it comes to having a relationship with “possible new Guy”.  Her religious beliefs and her cultural norms are tied together, and she believes in the aggressive man and submissive woman to a fault.

Trixie , 61, is gun-shy about men after three near marriages ended before they began.  She’s friendly, retired and has a full life with part-time work and community responsibilities.  She doesn’t have a clue to her character flaw that might have caused three marriages not to happen, and whether or not she can even find someone to love.

Sarah, 63, a widow whose handsome husband was killed in an accident, runs from facing the fact that she will eventually have to slow down. Very popular with men, she dates constantly on and offline.  She works full-time, and gives her time to everyone who needs it especially her twin girls and their children. She is getting more and more tired.   She lives on sodas and sweets, and a few diet pills from time to time.  She tries to turn life into a joke and make light of everything that happens to her.  It isn’t working, but she doesn’t realize it until disaster strikes.

10% Mark – Turning Point One: Opportunity: Something happens that provides an opportunity for the protagonist to act, and this will lead him to what will ultimately make him happy and complete. This opportunity leads to a…

Ann needs a new computer and she sees a man she had met at a dance.  He works part-time at the big box store, and is a pastor and of which church.  He is also very shy.  So now they both have the means to contact each other in the future.

Trixie falls in love on her own, and is obsessed with a charming, handsome man 3 years her junior. She can think of nothing or no one else, but he is not attentive, and lives about 250 miles away from her.


10-25% – Stage Two: New Situation: The protagonist gets a glimpse of what life would be life if he took the opportunity and acted. Things are changing for him, and it’s all very new and exciting, yet also scary. This leads to…

Between each of these descriptors I started to outline what I thought would happen to the characters.  I sometimes go back and change these as the story develops based on what the characters do as they interact with each other through their dialogue.  But at least I have a vague idea of how the story is going to develop.

25% Mark – Turning Point Two: A Change in Plans: The protagonist changes what he’s been doing and acts. This launches act two.

I actually started a new page for act two summarizing what had gone on in Act 1.  This helped me cement and realize that one event in the story had really been pivotal for all three women.  Until I did that, it was just an event.

2013 BOV Quilt Show121cr

Act Two: 25-75%

In act two, the protagonist works on changing his life and solving the problems of the plot. He isn’t sure how to do that and has both victories and setbacks. Act two breaks out like this:

25-50% – Stage Three: Progress: The protagonist tries to accomplish things to fix the problems and become the person he wants to be, eventually reaching the…

What I like about this plot line pattern is that it gives an approximate percentage of the book that should be completed by the time this happens in the story.

50% Mark – Turning Point Three: Point of No Return: This is the no going back point. Whatever happens, the protagonist fully commits to his course of action. He knows what he wants and is going for it full tilt. Which leads to…

In real life we go back and forth, and may never make a permanent change in our lives.  But this is a story, and if it is going to have a happy ending, the characters are going to have to fix what’s broken about their lives.

50-75% – Stage Four: Complications and Higher Stakes: The protagonist moves further into becoming the person he’s going to be and the resolution to his problem. But things are getting harder and the consequences are getting higher. Which leads to a…

This keeps the story interesting, and moving in the same directions, and keeps me from losing focus.

75% Mark – Turning Point Four: Major Setback: The protagonist screws up, often by getting overwhelmed with the new life and problem and retreated to the person her used to be. He falls/descends into…

I thought we were through with problems at this point, and I would have just ended the story, but this made me think it through, and add some depth!  🙂

75-90% – Stage Five: Final Push: The protagonist finally sheds his old self and becomes the new person, and this enables him to face…

This is going to be hard for my older lady characters.  Their ways are pretty set in stone, but some, if not all, of them may make good choices.

90-99% – Turning Point Five: The Climax: The final fight with the antagonist and the resolution of the story’s problem. The protagonist realizes if he fully embraces the new him, he will win. This ends with…

I’m all mapped out, plot-wise, but I haven’t written this yet.  Even doing this little review, has given me some more insight into my characters, which may change the outcome of the plot development.

100% – Stage Six: Aftermath: The protagonist has survived his ordeal and journey and is now the person he wanted to be, and has resolved the problems he was facing. He’s shed the old and embraced the new and takes the first steps in his new life.

2013 BOV Quilt Show117rBTW, these pictures are from the Best of Valley Quilt Show that I attended this spring thanks to the generosity of my friend, Carmen Friesen.

So in the end, is plot or character development more important to the story?  I’m less sure than I was at the beginning of this post!  What do you think?

15 replies »

  1. I think it’s tremendously difficult to analyze these two elements as if you could put them on a scales. If you have cardboard characters with a fabulous plot (it’s labeled genre fiction), you can get away with it, but no one is going to read the book for any reason except to find out what happens. If you have tremendously interesting characters and nothing external “happens” in the story, you can get away with it, but folks will label the book literary fiction. If you have both, you cross genres and develop the best of both worlds. I’ve read some books recently by Andrew Pyper and Dan Chaon, that fit both categories. To me, that’s the ideal. You want both, like eating food that contains a balance of fat/carbs/protein, you want to feel satisfied after finishing. Just eat fat, you feel bloated and bilious. Just eat simple carbs, your blood sugar spikes then plummets, and you feel grouchy and hungry 45 minutes after eating. Just eat protein, and your kidneys get damaged by excessive buildup of ketones in the body. So like any good diet, a book should seek some balance.


  2. Both are important of course and the rest may be personal preference. Personally, I think it’s an exchange where you go back and forth between forming the plot and breathing life into the characters. Some people are discovery writers and learn as their characters unfold with the story. I can see this type of approach working better when you are writing from your own life on all dimensions. It looks like you have set up a best of both worlds scenario as you are writing and outlining, writing and making course corrections as needed. Your story has plenty of vitality and I like your character contrasts. I expect a very satisfying read is coming our way!


    • Such a thoughtful answer, Tonia. Thanks for the input and the encouragement! The characters do morph as the plot unfolds, and as they talk and interact with each other. Then you have to go back and make corrections to make sure that the character has that characteristic, or at least you haven’t said something completely opposite about them. I read somewhere that you need to throw challenges at your characters and see how they handle them. I’ve been trying that, and it’s working out pretty well. 🙂 Good luck with your book as well. Are you sharing any parts with anyone as you go along?


  3. Well all I know is that you can’t have one without the other. Your method of planning sounds amazing and incredibly complicated and I am full of admiration for you. The sculptured dolls are wonderful.


    • Thanks. I don’t know that the planning is amazing. I’m following the suggestions of hints I’ve found on the web. Thank goodness! Those dolls were amazing. You would have loved the entire show. I have done a couple of posts, but with so many pictures, you just put some of them aside and hope they fit in somewhere else. It just so happened that these did. 🙂 Lots of love to you 🙂


  4. Absolutely, engrossed lass. I cannot wait to voraciously devour, er…read, rather, this effulgent work of literary art you are creating. I have already become fully ensnared and am completely captivated by your characters. Most excited to see how the plot unfurls. P.S. Superlative post! Now I have a bit more insight into some of dear ol’ Dostoyevsky’s plot-generating secrets har har. Excellent. Eagerly following the evolution of your creative writing process, too beautiful. Another P.S. adore the quilt dolls! Too groovy, excellent illustration for this post indeed.


    Autumn Jade


    • Thanks Autty. Those illustrate a children’s book, and I can’t remember which one right now, but the display was out of this world amazing. You would have loved it! Thanks for the wonderful encouragement as I attempt this novel writing stuff. I’m about to start on the next chapter as soon as I answer all my comments! 🙂 Lots of love 🙂


      • Oooo brilliant!! MOST exciting lassie!! Must dart off, now, Sir and I are about to go feed the wee squirrelies and ibises down the road- perfect way to greet the nascent of the day, I always say, rolling about with ibises and so forth. It is rather humid out, just now, with a heavy slough of blue cloud swirling low over the bleary sea, today. When the sun begins to melt through, it will create quite an aurific-rose display of lurching, whirling cloud and neon waves as a blazing pool of liquid gold pours through- a bilious dawn. When you get this, I wish you a very splendid and most edifying day as you cursitate about your wonderland of words. Much love,

        Old Sailor Toad


        • Dear Old Sailor Toad,
          Your words are most edifying of any words ruminating around in my lexicon. Thanks for sluicing by and joining me as I cursitate about my fabled storyland. 🙂 Lots of love, Marsha 🙂





Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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