Plot vs. Characters?

I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker concerning the merits of certain Sci-Fi films. For me, the only ones which matter are Star Trek and the three original Star Wars films. Many will disagree with me and that’s OK. The point of our discussion was what made them great movies, and I believe it’s the development and interaction of the characters which made them fun to watch and created loyal fans. The plot was important and the action exciting, but they only really mattered because of the way they affected or involved the characters.

What does this have to do with my writing? A great deal! I must confess, at the beginning I was convinced that the plot and action were key, while the characters were only so much window-dressing. Frankly, I was wrong – guilty of both ignorance and arrogance. As I became more comfortable as an author, a curious thing happened. Each book I wrote became progressively more character driven and I was then forced to reevaluate my basic assumptions on what constituted a great story.

It’s now obvious that the plot and action points become the vehicle for character development, interaction, and growth. It isn’t either/or, but both, and in the process they merge together to create a memorable reading experience. When readers finish a book, it’s the characters they remember and what they experienced along the way. Of course, writers cannot neglect a plausible and interesting plot or neglect to include sufficient drama and action. The story will fall flat without them, but it’s the characters which bring it all to life and are remembered long after the book is finished.






2 responses to “Plot vs. Characters?”

  1. H.R.R. Gorman Avatar

    I feel like you’re right – characters must be important, but they have to exist in some sort of plot. It’s like a combination of making you want good (or bad, I guess?) for the characters, and at the same time being able to see a way to achieve that end. Readers being apathetic to the progress of the story is probably worse than having them root against your main, because if they’re rooting against your main character, at least they’re feeling invested!

    1. Alexander Elliott Avatar
      Alexander Elliott

      Apathy is a killer. I’ve felt that way about a number of books and eventually stop reading and go on to something else.

      There’s no doubt you need both, but it took me a while to realize how critical characters really are to the story. Not one of my finest moments!

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