Character Driven Improv-Plot OR Pre-Plotted Thematic Story? Which to Use?

This morning as I have been reading The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells and drinking coffee, I have been thinking about plot. I think there are a few ways to approach plot and I think for each individual writer they have to find what works for them. This might be why writing advice books are not always the most useful of things.

Let me state up front that plotting stories is not always my strong suit. And because of this I have been putting a fair amount of mental effort into thinking on what creates really good stories and good plots. To my mind there are two basic approaches to creating a story arc or plot. One is to create a character or two and plunk them into a situation and see what happens. In this approach the characters take over and as long as the author can maintain a sense of emotional honesty and integrity about who the characters are and how they would respond, the story does not lose focus with divided points of view. The main character remains the main character because the whole story comes from this character’s reactions.

Another way to create plot would be to take a story idea, create a situation, think through what the author wants to say, and create a character to enact the story. This type of plotting and preplanning can create a story where the author knows ahead of time what the ending will be and where the story is headed and thus avoids the pitfall of not knowing how to end the story. This type of story can be tough though because the characters still need to be thought through and complete. Anything less will lack authenticity.