Recently I found these two quotes:

David Simon, creator of THE WIRE: "We start with a theme, or a situation and then come up with the best characters to tell it."

Elmore Leonard, novelist: "I start with a character and think about the kind of situations he can be in,"

So, what do you think?

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This is an interesting discussion. It seems to me you really do need it all - character, action and detail (environment). How you do it? Well, there are many ways that work. It's in the telling. Some writers are sparce. I read Ken Bruen and he probably uses less than 100 words a page... but man do I get a full sense of detail. Why? Probably because his characters live and breathe, and they drive action forward. They keep it all moving. Other writers, like, say, Michael Connelly or Peter Robinson, use a great deal of description to layer their environments. For me, that works just as well because, again, characters are driving the action.

Anyway, I could write about this stuff all day, but a man just walked into my room with a gun!

Gotta go!

H-
I think either way of starting is fine but then you're going to need both eventually.
You can start with a great problem or premise but you're gonna need a fantastic character to keep me interested.
Or you can give me a character I love - ballsy, argumentative, humane- but I'm gonna need them to get into a pretty tight spot at some point.
I guess for series stuff the protagonist is going to be the starter. But they're still going to have to have one mother of a problem to solve to keep readers interested.
HB x
I start with characters. I imagine their lives, how they connect with each other, then I change their comfortable existences and push them to their extremes. They react differently, with anger, frustration, or acceptance and then they start handling their crisis situations. Some bulldoze their way through--detemined to impose their will on others. Some take the way of least resistence and are extremely creative in finding the easy solution. Some just continue to exist. No matter what they do, it always impacts the others and creates a good story.
My main characters are born with problems. They show up on my doorstep with their baggage, and I’ll do my best to make everything fit into a nice, clever plot. I’m all about character before plot, but one can't really exist without the other.

Secondary characters come about far more deliberately. I think about my plot and what I need, then create the best (or worst) people for the job.
I've got a foot in both camps. As I write mostly series novels I'm lumbered with a central core of characters before I begin. But all the other characters will come from what's needed by the story.

And that was the same with the only standalone I've done. It was very much a case of the idea dictating the kind of characters that were going to be needed. I often find that they're so closely intertwined that it's difficult to tell which came first.

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