I know this is something which has been debated often before, but it interests me enough to return to the subject. What is it that motivates me most as a writer – or a reader – the people, the places or the plot?
A few years ago I would definitely have said that, for me. it was the people. Characters, likeable, real characters I can identify with, are what make or break a story. But as my writing has developed, I find that place is also very important for me and looking back at my favourite books (from the Chalet School series as a child to the magnificent Margaret Elphinstone now) I realise that the setting has also been very important in my reading. I like to visualise the place, to feel that I have been transported there. When that happens I know that there is something extra about a book.
And more recently I’ve begun to realise (I’m a little slow, I know) that even if a book has both of the above, for me it doesn’t work properly if they’re not properly knitted together by a good plot. I don’t mean an action-packed, hook-at-the-end-of-every-chapter plot, but one where there is sufficient mystery and uncertainty and a desire to see things resolved in a way you as reader – or writer – don’t quite know until you get there.
Yes, I am one of those who ‘writes into the mist’. I may have a vague idea of plot to begin with, but I have to write my way to seeing how it develops and where it ends.
So it’s not people OR place OR plot – it’s all three. And, when I'm writing, one doesn’t have to come before the other. Sometimes an idea for a story starts with the place, sometimes with something as small as the tone of a voice; or it might be a complicated situation. The key thing is that by the end all these essentials are there, entwined together to create the kind of book I like.