When I’m in a hurry, or when I’ve got an idea but I’m not sure where it’s going, I’ll do an outline for the story, as in my last post. That could be called a plot driven book. But some books are character driven. Sometimes the characters are alive in my mind and I just start writing. That’s what happened with this next book I’m working on. I had the setting and the characters, and I started writing with only the barest idea of a plot.
Here was the idea:
It’s about Jack, killed by a mutant known as the Heart Breaker. Jack’s back as a Zombie to avenge his own death. The story is set in an alternate reality where mutants have come into being thanks to increased radiation from nuclear waste. It’s also a love story.
I didn’t write an outline or synopsis, but I did do character sketches:
Jack: It’s strange. One day he’s dead and buried, and then a year later, on the day he was killed, he’s awake. Only he’s a zombie. Not the most attractive way to come back to life. Who brought him back to life? Why? The only inkling he has is a strange whisper in his mind… Some powerful force is leading him. And so he goes back to the club where he was killed.

Brianna: Private eye Brianna Kelsey has her work cut out for her. Her ex boyfriend, now a zombie, has hired her to find out who killed him. It’s a loser’s case; the police have been trying to find the Heart Taker for months, every lead is cold, every clue a dead-end. And Brianna has other problems—she was born under an unlucky star that tries to kill her on every possible occasion. If that’s not enough, she is still searching for that certain someone who can finally make the fireworks explode—instead of fizzle.

So I have my two protagonists and then I just started writing. I got about halfway through the book and realized I had too many POV’s (I have a cast of secondary characters that needed to be kept in their place, lol) – so I went back and changed all that – making the POV’s Jack’s or Brianna’s and cutting a lot of dead wood – in other words, parts of the story that were not carrying the two main characters towards their epiphanies.
Cast of secondary characters:
Dee: Dee’s dream has always been to own a nightclub. But all he can afford is a place where a gruesome murder happened. He changes the name and makes it into a classy strip-tease bar for women. And what better way to kick off the Halloween season but ask Jack to work for him as a stripper? He can find his killer and help Dee’s club become famous. Jack still has a fantastic body – as hard and polished as marble. For a zombie he’s hot. Plus, Dee argues, he can make up a number with his zombie scars, and use the music ‘Monster Mash’. On his first night as a stripper, Jack takes it all off, and proudly waving his cock, asks a lady “Can I dangle my dingle in your daiquiri?”

Mama Hoya: Voodoo queen from Haiti. Used to live in New Orleans before Katrina destroyed it. Now plies her trade in an abandoned warehouse. Like’s to be called m’ambo. Has a loa named Shirley who used to be a slave, and now advises Mama Hoya about who is going to die next. Mama Hoya has a useful library including a book called ‘Care and Feeding of your New Zombie body’. Jack might not have to turn green after all.

Jim and Maya Umberton: Jim is a two-hundred-year-old necromancer. What better place to work than in a morgue? His beautiful daughter Maya was killed by a mutant like the Heart Taker. He uses his powers to bring her back to life. She becomes a zombie mutant stalker. In this world, mutants are becoming more common and some are serial killers like the Heart Taker. Maya’s specialty are vampires. Armed with a stake and a black belt in tae kwando, she haunts the city’s cemeteries. Jack thinks she’s just wonderful. Too bad her heart belongs to daddy.

To make the story hold together, this books needed a setting so I had to work out a place that was very close to our world, with just a few slight differences. Magic and mutants abound, and there is a huge mutant interpol that Maya and Jim work for, and where Jack will eventually find…well, I haven’t outlined the book, so I’m not telling he’ll find yet, but the setting will help me keep the book focused. In this book, the setting is like another character.

However fun this book is to write – it’s also taking longer because of the secondary characters, the setting, and the fact that there isn’t an outline to follow – only a whisper of an idea that is pulling Jack toward his killer, Brianna into deadly danger, and Dee straight to his ruin…Unless…

If I had to choose between writing a character driven or a plot driven book, I would choose character driven. It’s more fun to write, and it’s more creative in some ways. However, if someone wants to write their first book, I will suggest they first start with the outline method. Writing is a very complex and yet ridiculously simple thing – and what is vital is finishing that first book. Once you have done that, the other ones will get easier and easier, and you will find the method that works best for you.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the third method I use – the timeline method – and how it can help with complex plots and historical novels.