Which comes first, character or plot?
Character comes first. I separate the mass of novels into good and bad. A good book could be described as one about a man who, in a situation, does such and such. A bad book is about a situation in which a man does such and such. In other words, plot ought to grow out of character. You don’t have to make up a plot. You have to have a person and place him in a situation and a plot starts happening.
What’s weird here is that I started my own list of good short books this very morning, as inspiration for a writing project. Here’s what I came up with (there’s a slight overlap):
All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers, Larry McMurtry
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Speedboat, Renata Adler
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Lots of goodies in this BuzzFeed Books ”19 Short Novels for the Shortest Month of the Year" list, including Housekeeping and All the Living.
God bless you my dear Keats, don’t despair, collect incidents, study characters, read Shakespeare and trust in Providence.