Characters or Plot – which is more important?

I have to thank @kmweiland for getting me noodling along these lines again. Her tweet was asking just this question, as a question of the day.

My response (in more than 140 characters this time) is that a really well considered character study can still be a really fascinating read.  I love writing back stories for people I see randomly in restaurants or in the stores.

Why is he limping? Why does that kid seem sick?  Geez, how MANY bags of potato chips do you really need?   When you ask yourself those questions, there are two things to do – either ask them out loud (which may garner some funny looks) or write them down and come up with your own fictional rationale for what’s going on a little later.

A really good plot on the other hand, is really just an outline.  It might be a wonderful plot, never before seen by the mind of man, glistening with new promises of movies or maybe a broadway production.  But without characters to develop, the plot is just… a framework.  It’s the skeleton of the story without any of the meat.

So, I think it is sort of like a sandwich. The bread holds the good stuff inside.  That’s the plot.  It’s full of promise, but you really don’t want to taste just the bread.  Sure, there are different flavors of bread and I love them all – but that’s not enough to make me sit up and take notice.  Well, unless it’s fresh out of the oven, but that’s a different story.  The good stuff is inside. The characters.  And it is how those characters react to the plot (which must be somewhere in the mayo and mustard layers) that a really good sandwich is formed.

Yeah. I’m hungry. Sorry about that.  But I like my analogy. =D

Where do you find characters?

I've taken a nearly 30-day hiatus from this blog while I got heavily involved in this writing project. I don't always multitask well, so I felt it was better to streamline the number of pots I was putting my fingers into in any given day.

I even abandoned Twitter for the duration, which was actually kind of a relief.

But that's not what you're here for, is it?
Characters: Where do you find them?  

For today's thought, let's think about Serendipity.  
I often go people-watching.  I go with a purpose – not just to kill time.  Most recently I was in a coffee shop / restaurant, and decided to grab a large coffee and sit for a bit.  There were not many people in there at the time, so I selected a group of older women as my eavesdropping target and sat three tables away.  They had scrunched three tables together, and were chatting away animatedly with gales of laughter and titters of giggles.  This should be good, right?

I estimated that these ladies were in their 50s or so.  For all I knew it was the leftovers of a church prayer breakfast, a community social, or maybe an extended group of long time friends.

I was fully expecting conversations about kids, grandkids, husbands, jobs, the economy, politics, or the weather.  The bits of conversation I got initially were kind of confusing.  I stared out a window so that I wasn't looking at them, letting their words draw pictures for me in the sky, listening to the banter and the occasional giggles.

"Well, when I got busted, it was not like that at all!"

What?  These ladies were comparing arrest records and cop stories!  I listened longer.  There was a brief debate about some court procedures, and then the subject changed to an event they were planning.  I had missed the meat of the conversation.

But it got me thinking, I certainly would not have expected that conversation – which brings me to the power of surprise.  How many times have you written your fiction so that your characters always seem to be doing exactly what you would expect a person to do in that instance?

Real creativity lets you break out of conventional expectations and surprise people.  It should be just as full of surprises as life itself.