Character or Plot
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 What's more important, plot or character?

     That's a tough question to answer. A great mystery plot will keep me turning the pages until the end. But delightful, intriguing characters whom I can relate to make me feel as if I'm part of the story. Beginning the next book in a series is like a visit with old friends. When I reach the last page, I often don't want the book to end. Wherever those characters go, I want to go with them. 

     While characters are entertaining, great plotting grabs me like a chess game, pulling me into the story, blocking out all distractions. I don't answer my phone, I don't answer my doorbell, I ignore my e-mail, and I pretend to listen when my husband tells me something. Instead I find myself pondering the story even when I’m not reading the book. John Irving’s latest, Last Night in Twisted River, is such a book, but then so are all of his novels. His characters are often successful writers whose lives are in an upheaval, then he places them in awkward, unbelievable situations. He weaves a story, taking readers from past, present, and back again with such finesse, you don’t notice. 

     So, my answer is both. When writers create memorable characters with intriguing plot, their books receive a prominent place on my shelf. Next to Irving, sets Carl Hiaasen, Anne Perry, Elizabeth George, and Martha Grimes.

  • Both are important. I care about characters a tiny bit more than I care about the plot -- after all, if I don't care about the characters, I'm not likely to care what happens to them either -- but I find both to be important.

  • I have to admit there are a couple of writers who I consider candy, and they are character driven with soso stories, or occasionally good plots, but I LOVE the characters.  The Cat Who books are in that category.  She is fun, best-selling, and yet, really, her plots are soso.  But we love Quill, Koko, etc.  Amelia Peabody comes to mind also.  I buy them all, but am often a bit disappointed in the plots!

    On the other hand, both my husband and I listen to audio books a good deal while working, and often he (even more than me) is disappointed when a plot is good and the characters are not well-developed.  He is really bothered by two-dimensional women, who do things he knows (having been around me and daughters) are not at all what a real woman might do.  

    I tend to be bothered with mature characters who show great resources then fall flat by pulling a gone-with-the-wind, not saying what they would actually say and hoping for tomorrow.  I have turned books off for that move, because I lose interest in where the characters are going.  Like getting to know what you hoped might be a great friend then they do something so out of character you wonder who they are?

    Dona Leon, Wallace Stegner, John Dunning, John Irving, Craig Johnson, Kate Wilhelm (Barbara Holloway's), all good characters and great plots!

    My own characters drive the plots a good deal.

  • As a playwright, characters may be more important than one would think.

    The following statements are my own opinion:

    I have noticed that women (not all) tend to write what I call, "cause plays". The characters are just instruments of what the writer is trying to convey.

    Successful male playwrights appear more focused on letting the characters create the cause.

    I state this only because there is always discussion regarding "the gender gap" for play productions. Women create wonderful characters just as men always have an underlying cause they support. It is how the characters are presented, speak and respond that makes the difference.

    I prefer working with the characters. I've been told my plays are, "a slice of American life".  They don't do well in competitions, but when produced, people seem to enjoy them and can identify with them without scratching their heads. I think it is because the characters are people they know.

  • Often those well-developed characters help drive the plot. For me, when that happens, I'm off and running and enjoying the writing process. And when a rich setting takes on a character presence of its own, well, you got a great story developing. 

  • When I am reading a book I am more interested in the plot, I know that is not fair to the author who spent their time creating them.  

    However, I enjoy creating the characters as well as the plot.  When I wrote the first draft of my novel Immune From Prosecution I didn't put that much effort into the characters.  And beta readers complained.  So I forced myself to spend time on what I felt was a waste of my time, I didn't see how they would enhance the story.  But now that I have gotten to really know Rachel Shorte and Winston Spaulding, and all their friends and enemies, I can see how giving them more life enhanced the story.  And the town - New Grace, South Carolina - has become a character, actually one of my favorite characters.

    Thank you for starting a new discussion.