The focus depends on the nature of the story and the person writing it. In terms of my own writing, I think I’ve discovered which is best. Often, when it comes to the initial concept, I’ll either have characters with no plot, or a plot with no characters to fill it. Most of the time for me, the characters come first.
I find it really easy to create characters. I’ll start with a basic idea and then I’ll have a whole character develop from it, with a highly detailed backstory. That’s my bad habit in writing. Of course, you have to have good backstories for your characters. Even if they don’t show up in the story, it’s useful for the writer to know how their characters became who they are.
My bad habit is that when I have a good backstory for a character, whether I came up with it on the spot or spent days thinking about it, I want to put it into the story. This is okay, but there has to be a good way to go about putting it in, otherwise it will just be annoying. If the present is supposed to be the focus of the story, you don’t want the past overpowering it.
At the same time, it’s common knowledge that the character influences the plot. They’ll react to each situation differently from another character, and that will affect the outcome. Things you decide when about a character when developing them may also play a role in the plot.
Another problem I occasionally get is that I create really great characters and then can’t think of a plot to put them in, or the one I come up with either doesn’t make sense or isn’t what I wanted. Plot is the part that usually takes a lot more work for me.
Occasionally, I’ll come up with the idea for a plot first. Sadly, it rarely pops into my head as detailed as my characters do. Then I’ll have to develop it a bit more and look around to find what sort of characters would best fit into this plot to make it a good story.
Plot holes can be a big problem for a lot of people, things that don’t make sense, aren’t developed enough, or seem to be missing from the story. Some of these can be really hard to fix and often the solution turns out to be simpler than originally thought, for me at least. Sometimes either the characters or plot will have to be changed to work with the other.
The worst part for me is an exact setting, but we’ll talk about that another day. For me, the best part is when I’ve already developed a storyline and, even when I’m not thinking about it, new details about the characters or plot will just reveal themselves. This is especially good when it fixes a problem I’ve been having.
For me, I like character driven stories and I prefer ones with more psychological elements or deeper meanings. I love characters with a lot of internal problems in addition to external ones, characters with dark pasts. That’s probably why I love writing them so much. Plot is great too though, it all just depends on how it’s written. My favourites are still the ones with the twist endings.
Of course, that's just my approach to and thoughts on this part of writing. If you've read this far, I'd be interested to know what you think. What is more important in a story, good plot or good characters? Or are they equal, or even the same? If you're a writer yourself, what's your approach?