What is the best way to approach art, writing, film, etc? Do you decide on the theme, thesis, political objective, or concluding dynamic of the characters and then write towards it? Or do you pick out some interesting characters, place them in a situation/time/place and then just write as you follow them to their own conclusion? I support the latter, though unavoidably you need to keep the former in mind. Lean on the characters first and you'll get to the end properly. Otherwise you'll risk ending up with a cultural artifact that rapidly becomes dated (Easy Rider). Lehane's comment on the writing of Mystic River is an excellent example of the right way (I think):
And for about seven years the title and the neighborhood and the main character stayed with me, just lightly rapping on the door every now and then. About three years ago, a sentence—"Brendan Harris loved Katie Marcus like crazy, like movie love. . ."—started echoing in my skull, and it merged with some of the properties of the Mystic River idea (which had been sort of elbowing its way into pole position in my head) and everything coalesced, I guess.