Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Characters or Story First?

(Please enjoy this cute yet years-old doodle unrelated to this post!)

So I recently put out a journal on another website asking about people's methods for coming up with stories, because I've had a lot of "concept block" lately. (I hardly get "artist's block", I just can never think of what to draw!)

Much to my surprise, many people said they go characters first - as in, think of some characters and then build a story around them, or how they interact.

This surprises me because I have always, always gone story first - Language of Flowers especially was story first, and then characters after. So I wonder, what are the advantages of going either way?

I can say from personal experience that an obvious issue with going concept first is that your characters suck. One or two might be alright, but as a cast they probably suck. This happens to me all the time because when I have a good idea about the story I just want to tell the story already; I don't care who it takes! I don't spend any time thinking about them or how they interact or what they like or any of that other junk. So, should I try to make the characters first?

The problems I see with the characters-first approach: is the story interesting enough to keep people reading? I can think of several artists who I love to bits but whose stories are so complicated, bogged down with all sorts of random/useless information about their characters that I can just not bring myself to care about the story they're presenting to me. Or, they're so excited about their characters that they are constantly posting spoilers for a comic they haven't even't started!

Furthermore, I think a dangerous pitfall, especially for young artists, is treating characters like your "babies" - stories are generally about conflict, and few parents want to see their children in conflict. Sure, you should like your characters, but I don't think you should love them, because in the end it really handicaps what you're willing to put them through. Another thing I see a lot from young artists is divulging every fact about their characters; the stuff you write to help your understanding of the character is not stuff everyone needs to know, and it is especially not stuff that needs to be included in the story itself. Really, we don't care if your characters favorite food is broccoli and he loves to roller skate in his spare time! Unless his eating habits or his spare time is a central/entertaining element to the story, it really doesn't make a difference.

The truth is, no matter how much you love your characters they should move the story along. But your story shouldn't trample your characters either!

How do you guys go about it making stories, and how do you make it work?