Theme, Character, Story.
Alright, if you're here--it's probably because you like my stories. If you don't like my stories, I don't like you. That sounds pretty fair to me.
I realize that a lot of people love reading stories, but they don't care about how the writers going about forming them. (Outside of the question--where do your ideas come from? That one is universally loved.) I try not to go very deep into the craft on this blog, partly because I really love the idea of putting out a finished product that is beautiful, without anyone seeing how it was made. Also, because I don't think most readers care.
Sometimes, though--I amaze even myself. I do this rarely as my expectations are so high.
I reread On Writing by Stephen King last week, and while most of that book is gold, he said something I had a tough time relating to. He said the most important thing in a story is story itself. To me, this means what happens. He said character is second, and finally, you search through the novel to see if themes exist after it's written.
I'm coming up on 2,000 hours of dedicated practice (another post coming soon), but I'm growing into the writer I will be; that said, I disagree with King.
To me, the process is like this:
Theme creates characters, and then the characters drive the story. Everything relies on theme to move the story along, though. It's the foundation beneath the house.
I hate the distinction between a 'serious' writer and a genre writer; it's silly and a dichotomy that need not exist. King, I believe, does theme last because the fan's entertainment is his most important concern (think plurality, not majority in this instance). It isn't mine. Philip K. Dick said: I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist.
I really identify with that quote.
I've always felt--and my family can attest--that I'm right and the rest of the world is, for lack of a better term, wrong. That's where my stories come from. Those themes about the world being wrong on so many different issues. It's mindblowing (both how I can be so arrogant and so many people so wrong).
That's where my stories come from, though. Themes. Questions about how the world should work or how one should feel. From there characters are born, and then the story.
It's a great feeling, this becoming a writer thing.