Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Character and Plot; Which is More Important?

Before I start this post, I am going to say that this will not be an extremely long post; just in case you were wondering. :)

Just so you know, I wrote this in two segments, two different nights--so I may have a different outlook on some parts of the post than others.

Now, in this post there are two opposing arguments; Characters are Most Important, and Plots are Most Important. I will investigate each of these arguments, and then come to a conclusion. But the real question at stake is this; should stories be character driven, or plot driven? Whichever side may win takes the bacon. :)


Characters are Most Important

Characters are indeed important. Some of the most important parts of a story are contained here. But are they MOST important? Here's a couple of points that seems to point in that direction (no pun intended!).

1) A character may 'make or break' a book. Bad and poorly made characters drag the story in the dirt, while the opposite is true as well; great characters pull stories up and place them among the best stories of out time.

2) Good villains make or break a book. The villain is just as important as the other characters, more so in many cases.

3) Readers will care more about the story and recommend it to more people if the characters are done right. The character in LOTR are wonderful and real to us--and that is part of what makes so many LOTR fanatics in this world.

4) Characters narrate. If a character that you don't like (meaning a two-demensional, boring character) is narrating, the narration itself is flat. On the other hand, if your favorite character is narrating, the narration seems more alive to you.

So does this prove the supremacy of Characters? We'll see.


Plot is Most Important

Characters are well and good, and perfectly necessary for a successful story, but it is plot that is most important. Right?

1) Without a plot to back them up, the characters are useless. Who cares about the character development when your plot is so unoriginal and un-arresting that it turns off readers from the first whiff?

2) Plot is what keeps the readers going--not the characters.

Not very many points to back Plot up here, but the two I have are strong. Surely this will prove, once and for all, that Plot is clearly the better.


The Overview

In this part, I'll address each point.

C-1) "A character may 'make or break' a book. Bad and poorly made characters drag the story in the dirt, while the opposite is true as well; great characters pull stories up and place them among the best stories of out time." True or false? That may be up to the reader reading this, but in my view, this is mostly true. Sure, bad characters drag the story in the mud, but the stories can still limp on.

C-2) "Good villains make or break a book. The villain is just as important as the other characters, more so in many cases. " Basically, this is the same thing as the last point. I'm not sure why I even wrote this. :) But the same reply I gave above applies.

C-3) "Readers will care more about the story and recommend it to more people if the characters are done right. The character in LOTR are wonderful and real to us--and that is part of what makes so many LOTR fanatics in this world." This is absolutely true. The characters, not the plot, are usually what gives a story meaning. What the character does is what gives meaning to a story.

C-4) "Characters narrate. If a character that you don't like (meaning a two-dimensional, boring character) is narrating, the narration itself is flat. On the other hand, if your favorite character is narrating, the narration seems more alive to you." To an extent, this is true. But if the writer does his/her job right, we'll either forget who's narrating, or be greatly aware of the narrator and share his/her thoughts--which also takes a good writer, partially invalidating the point. You see, if the writer has enough skill to get the reader inside a character's mind skillfully, why can't s/he develop the characters well?

P-1) "Without a plot to back them up, the characters are useless. Who cares about the character development when your plot is so unoriginal and un-arresting that it turns off readers from the first whiff?" This is mostly true, in my opinion. What good are characters when the plot is bad? But it depends on the reader. Some readers really need to connect with characters in order to get into the story, while some are indifferent. This means that some readers won't mind the plot, while some will be quite put off by it--so it is partially a matter of opinion. However, there are certain points where you hold up your hands and say, "I can't take this plot anymore," and put the book down.

P-2) "Plot is what keeps the readers going--not the characters." The above answer/explanation/dissection I gave also applies to this. In a way, this is a matter of opinion. Some books, like "The Shadow and Night" by Chris Walley, rely on characters much more than plot to get the reader's interest, though the plot is intriguing as well. Others, like "Offworld" by Robin Parrish, rely on plot to keep the readers reading.

Conclusion

This is what the post is leading up to; did any of this help you with your novel? Not really. But here I'll try to capture the usefulness of this post.

So, which one was more important? Plot or Character?

Neither, believe it or not.

Inevitably, when in the business and bustle of writing--assuming you know other writers (I didn't until I made this blog in March!), you will hear about 'plot driven' books, and 'character driven' books. That discussion is for a whole 'nother blog post, but let us say that those are the two categories many books fall into. But what category should your book fall into?

Neither, believe it or not. You shouldn't focus on just characters, or just plot in your novel. If you're good at one thing, like characters, but bad on another, like plot, it may be good to focus on one or the other to 'balance' your novel out, but you shouldn't focus on just one aspect. Think of character and plot as a whole. They aren't opposing forces; character doesn't drive out plot! Or vice-versa!

"They are all part of," (to borrow a Bible verse) "one whole body." One does not work without the other! They are (or should be) intricately woven together until you can't tell where one began and the other ended; plot and character molded together gives you the best of both; the meaning that character brings, yet the suspense that plot can give. Each effects the other; if you successfully develop your character, you successfully develop your plot, and vice-versa. If you make your character meaningful, it makes his/her goal meaningful; the plot.

Hopefully I have showed you, in my past two posts, the potency of both character and plot alone. But together, woven into a compelling story, they can triple their strength and make your story all the better for it.


9 comments:

Eldra said...

Exactly! You need a blend of both plot and character for the story to really succeed. Characters would go absolutely nowhere without the plot to move them along.

Jake said...

Or vice versa. :D

Galadriel said...

Yeah--I think the confusion comes because some people have more trouble with one than the other.

Star-Dreamer said...

Yes, you need a blend of both... but if you don't have a character, you don't have a plot.

If you have a character, at least you can build a plot off of that character's actions -- especially if you're a seat-of-the-pants writer (like myself. :D)

If you only have a plot, but no character, you don't have a story at all: you must first come up with a character before your plot can really go anywhere, because most problems in the world are based off of actions -- human actions, usually. A living creature must do something, and something results from that something.

:D

Jake said...

But...if you do not have a plot, your characters are useless. :) It works either way.

Star-Dreamer said...

Yes. Very true. Without plot there is no reason to be for a character. :D

But...

if you just start writing about whatever your character does, your character's actions literally make the plot... whether you planned it out first or not.

For instance, I don't know what I'm going to do after I'm done writing this... so currently the next few hours of my life have no plot. But, if one were to talk to me in an hour or so and ask what I'd been doing, then I could tell them everything I had done -- wrote, called someone, ate dinner, rode a bike -- those actions were the "plot" of my last two hours.

However, if I weren't here then I could not have done any of those actions, thus they wouldn't not have been done,and so there would have been no character for the story and no plot.

I don't know about you, but I can't even plan a plot without a person (usually nameless at first) showing up somewhere.

The first random notes I take for a story are usually something like: A boy hangs out with one of the elders of the village in which he lives. The elder is considered an eccentric and is a star gazer. He lives in a building at the very edge of town that he calls his observatory. The elder tells him stories of a different time. The other villagers think the stories are just legends, but the elder insists that they aren’t. He says the stories are true history. He shows the boy how to watch the stars and teaches him the constellations.

That was random. lol! :)

I will amend one thing I said though. The definition of the word "plot" is a series of events in a story or movie.

Now, "a series of events" could possibly be something like:

--The rain lashed the trees like stinging strands of a whip.

Then lightning flashed a brilliant purple across the sky.

Then the wind pounded the storm stricken cliffs, forcing pieces of stone to break off and fall into the tempest sea. --

BUT...

Even then you have subjects: you have the storm itself, then you have the cliff, the sky, and the trees.

Characters are just more intricate "subjects" of a story. Something happens to something else.

If there is nothing for something to happen to, then nothing happens. It can't happen.

see?

Writers just make "something" happen to "subjects" they and other people can relate to: their characters.

:D

Jake said...

But does this make plot more important? :)

It's like asking whether the egg or the chicken is more important. Without the beginnings--the egg--there would be no chicken. And yet the chicken also produces the egg...

Star-Dreamer said...

hmm... again, very good point. :D

I suppose if one were to look at it through God's eyes plot might be more important... since he can see and know everything that happens before it happens, and knows what might have happened if we chose differently.

I think for those of us who aren't all omnipotent, character would be more important as we are all the main characters of our own story.

But then when we are authors, it's almost like we are "playing God" with our story...

And yet I still want to say that characters are more important because if there wasn't a subject for something to happen to (or by) nothing would happen.

I mean, even God is a character: he created everything, meaning that things happened BY Him... (the world was created! :D) And then Jesus came and things happened TO him....

It's all rather confusing.

In this case though, I think the chicken came first if we go back to creation. :D I mean, god made the animals and the birds right? but there had to be a bird to lay the egg that made another bird... well, I guess there didn't HAVE to be, because he's GOD, but I would guess that's how it went.

:D :D :D

Jake said...

I suppose I AM omnipresent when I am writing. >_> Heh. I know all...see all...and write all.

You know, the chicken and egg argument is really a hard question for evolutionists...XD

Now, back to the debate...

"And yet I still want to say that characters are more important because if there wasn't a subject for something to happen to (or by) nothing would happen."

Now, the thing is: if characters didn't DO anything (didn't make a plot), then what is the use? They wouldn't be characters. They would be bundles of skin and hair with no soul. No morality. It is the plot that can make the character--without the plot, the character is a two demensional cardboard cutout.

But the funny thing is; this is going in circles. LOL. That is why I came to the conclusion that Plot and Character are equally important.