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In the previous three chapters, our discussion of writing has primarily focused on place: where you go for inspiration. Writers may draw on their experience of the world around them, they may draw on memory, or they may draw on their dreams and imagination, yet for many writers this may not be enough or it may not be where they go first. Often, writers say that a story or poem begins, not with the plot or with the setting, but with a character. Once the writer knows who he or she is going to write about, then the other things begin to fall into place. Other writers start with a place and only then begin to populate it with one or more characters. And occasionally a writer will know what is going to happen before knowing where and to whom it will happen. As with so many issues in writing, there is no one right way to do it. There is no right order to write in. But one thing is true: whether the characters emerge first or whether they emerge later in the process, compelling characters are essential to most good writing. Naturally, we expect characters in fiction and drama. We also expect them in some forms of nonfiction, such as in autobiography or docudrama. We may not expect them as much in the personal essay or in a poem, where the use of character is often much more subtle and minimal. Perhaps there is only a word or an image that gets at the character in a poem or even in flash fiction. Yet often, if not always, the writing arises out of a sense of character, even if the character is a persona of the writer.
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