I made a post on my Facebook page recently about how much fun it is to begin a novel with nothing more than a character’s name and face, then build a story around the character. My blogging friend, David Felker, commented that it was like peeling the layers of his client’s personalities away to get to their troubles, like layering an onion.
It was a great comment and it made me think about what I do as a writer. I layer the onion, but in reverse.
For me, my protagonist is the core of my story and all the layers of the tale build around this one person and the conflict he or she must overcome. For some folks, it’s the plot, but once you have the core of the novel, be it plot or character, the rest of the process is the same.
With the character as the core, planning the novel becomes a wonderful game of trying to figure out who this individual is and what goals he hopes to achieve. The core of my onion is my protagonist and the first layers revolve around his past and personality.
Next my protagonist must have an antagonist of some sort, so I apply the layers around my antagonist. What obstacles does my antagonist leave before my protagonist, and more importantly, why does my antagonist seek to thwart my protagonist? What ties them together? The past? The future? A common goal?
Then comes all the other characters who will have a part in my protagonist’s story, and they each bring layers of their own.
I work through my plot and sub-plots, each building a layer toward the skin, the ending, the piece that ties them all together.
What about you? What’s the core of your novel, the plot or your protagonist? How do you build the layers of your story?