Plot vs. Character
by John Raab
Plot vs. Character has been a debate now for several years. Many authors will fall on one side or the other, when talking about what drives a story. It is an interesting debate and while I’ll give love to both sides I will give you what I believe is the most important part and the most important part in keeping a writing career.
When you think character, many people will think of a series. Let’s say James Patterson with Alex Cross, or Lee Child with Jack Reacher or Patricia Cornwell with Kay Scarpetta. These are all examples of the character being the focal point of the story. Each author has over a dozen books with the same character, while the plot for each book changes. Now people in favor of plot will say that many of the series characters have become stale and not interesting anymore, since they basically do the same thing over and over in each book. I agree with that statement, but disagree that the main character drives the story. I believe that when you have secondary characters or a strong villain, let’s say The Mastermind with Patterson, who was in several books, it was a cat and mouse game between him and Cross that drove the story. Now there were other storylines involved, but that was the main focus. These characters are very popular and fans can’t seem to get enough of them.
However when you look at plot or maybe authors that haven’t written a series character we can pick out David Morrell or Stephen King. Now King did write the Dark Tower series, which was seven books, but that was a series that had an ending, so I don’t count that as writing a series character. Both of these authors have relied on plot more than character, but it’s the characters within the story that drive the plot. With King you have Cujo or Christine, both were characters within the story and without them there would be no story. Again though, if the story didn’t fit the characters correctly, you would have a problem, probably the worst problem an author can have. They would have written a character that was forgettable. The goal of an author is very simple. Entertain the reader with story and character, giving the fan an emotional reaction, either good or bad. If you write an author and say, “I hated that character and wish you would have killed him off.” They have done their job. You didn’t forget them, you had an emotional reaction to that character.
Now within each story both elements are very important. The story has to move at a good pace, with the characters not just standing around looking at each other, that’s boring. If the story is slow, but the characters are engaging, funny, or ruthless, you will probably continue to read because you want to see what will happen to them. My thoughts are that having strong characters can take the place of a story that might not be that interesting. The characters can drive the story forward, the same way a great actor or actress can drive a movie, even if the story is pretty bland.
Next time you read a book see why you keep reading it or why did you put it down. Was it because you just couldn’t relate to the characters and not care if they lived or died, or was it because the story just didn’t move at a good pace, therefore boring you? You will find out real quick what type of reader you are and maybe that will help you pick out a new author to read.
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