Wednesday, September 13, 2006

People... People Who Love People...

You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. ~ Paul Sweeney

There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. ~ Marina Tsvetaeva

Yesterday on Romancing the Blog, the blog author brought up the topic of character-driven plots vs. plot-driven. She said:

What does matter to me is plot. I have to enjoy the story being told so I’ve learned to look for the types of plots I truly enjoy, first, and check out others at my leisure. However, it seems like every time I say this someone will come forward with the comment that they don’t pick stories for plot but character. That character is what makes a story stick in their minds more than plot does.


What does that mean exactly?

It’s not that I don’t believe other readers when they say this. It’s that I really don’t understand what they mean even after all these years of thinking about it.

The responses she received early on were very much in her court - It's all about the plot. So I had to chime in. I said this (which she later quoted):

If I love the characters enough, if they’re real enough that I would recognize them when I passed them on the street, then I would be happy to read about them hanging wallpaper. Seriously. Because it’s like hanging out with friends.

And honestly, that's the truth.

I picked up all the books in a series from an author I admire from a blog I read (but hadn't read his books). The plot sounded fantastic: exciting, edge of your seat, mind bending... I couldn't wait to dive in. What a premise! Whoo!!

But, the books were all about the plot, and virtually nothing about the characters. Oh, there were people in the book, but they were tools to move the plot forward and I didn't know them. So I didn't care if we were being invaded by aliens or whatever. So, the world's coming to an end... blah, blah, blah. I skimmed the book and never picked up another one.

It's not about the plot.

It's about voice. It's about characters. It's about making me care whether they're hanging the wallpaper straight or not. It doesn't matter what they do as much as it matters who they are.

The blog author brought up a point that the characters are always "doing" something, even if they're simply sitting on a train, talking. That's plot. Well, of course they're always doing something... that's not exactly plot, IMHO.

But the point is that, I'll happily read about characters I love doing boring things before I'll read about characters I don't doing exciting things. I'm far more forgiving of a bad or dull plot if the author has fully fleshed characters.

When I write, I think of the characters FIRST, plot second. Who are these people? What are they like? Where could I put them that there would be some interesting stuff going on?

But, I suspect that the argument will be enternal. There was a huge outpouring of comments on this blog, so she clearly hit a nerve for many folks. And the good thing is -- people are different. The come in all shapes, sizes, colors and reading preferences. It's what make the world go round.

Still... my way is better. Of course.



Allie Boniface said...

Hmm...I don't know...

My early novels were about character way more than plot. I had these great people that I wanted to bring to life, and I think I did, but inevitably the responses I got from people both in my writers' groups and at agencies were that the plot wasn't strong enough. Not enough conflict. Not enough driving the characters apart and together and toward The Black Moment.

I love characters and get attached to them as well, in good writing, but I don't know if I could watch them hang wallpaper. Unless, of course, there were issues with the wallpaper, lack of glue or too much glue or something, in which case clothes had to be removed and warm soapy water was involved and...

Well, you get the idea.

Charity said...

I think you need to marry character to plot and get story. It’s the story that matters. And yeah, the characters carry an awful lot of weight in that deal, but plot isn’t insignificant.