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.