Discussion: Plot Vs. Character?

I am always shocked when someone says they care more about the plot of the book than the characters. This boggles my mind to no end, because what’s the point if you don’t connect with the characters? I plan to do another post soon about the hero’s story arc, and to me that arc makes or breaks a story. But of course, I have to wonder…

tonystark-too-much-to-askI mean seriously, if you make me love characters enough, I will devour scenes where they just sit around and talk, but I have to admit, plot is imperative to make the story move forward. Can the character have an arc without a real journey? But what do the journey and the arc matter if you don’t even care about the character in the first place?

princessbride-intellectRecently I read The Body Electric by Beth Revis, and I found I had the same problem with it that I did with Across the Universe: the characters felt so bland even though they were in an intriguing world with high stakes. But since I didn’t care about the characters too much, what difference did it make? And then right after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Of course it’s an unfair comparison, but let’s look at it anyway: I had gotten to know these characters and were already attached to them, but through their circumstances they grow leaps and bounds just in this one book. And when I read Shadow Scale, I was thrown into an interesting world with characters I already knew and loved, once again, but the arc felt so static. What was the point of the journey, ultimately? I really had no idea.

Characters help connect me to the story. The plot moves the characters through an arc. And if the arc is successful and I see positive change on the other side (or really well executed negative change), then I am ultimately satisfied with the story.

plot-vs-charactersDo you consider yourself more of a plot person or a character person? What do you think matters most in a story/character arc?

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10 thoughts on “Discussion: Plot Vs. Character?

  1. I hate to say it, but the best books have a healthy mix of both. I can’t say I like one more than the other, just that if it is uneven it is distracting. The type of books that defy this though are ones that are character stories where the plot is mostly low key and instead drives internal conflict where the character grows that way. When I read those types of books and still really enjoy them, I think it just boils down to excellent writing. But arcs are important, and I definitely judge the books on whether the character grew, changed over the story. Great topic!

  2. This is an interesting discussion! Of course a great book needs to have a great plot and characters, but I think you’re right that if I’m invested in the characters, I can really love a story. Although I can see where a good story can have more plot than developed characters – fairy tales for example. But you just need both for a good novel! (and fairy tale retellings are awesome for giving us both!)

    • I also think with movies I lean more on the plot than the characters, though I do want to like them on some level. But that is an interesting thought about fairy tales! But yes, I definitely appreciate good retellings where both shine, especially The Lunar Chronicles! Marissa Meyer can really craft great characters!

  3. I definitely like character-driven books, but it’s true that there needs to be some kind of plot – they need to be going somewhere. I do lean more towards the character side though.

  4. Sometimes, I can be fine with just one. One could always compensate for the other, but I truly love books where there’s a good balance of both the plot and characters. I don’t really have a preference, and it always depends on the book I’m reading, but I always hope that the book has both.

  5. While I think every story needs an intriguing (and comprehensible) plot, and there have been many books that I’ve liked solely because the story itself was intriguing, if you want me to LOVE a book, and get OBSESSED with a book, then it’s all about the characters. I will forgive SO MUCH in a book if the characters are to-die for. I mean, think about Harry Potter! If you weren’t interested in the characters, all the camping and wandering around looking for stuff in Deathly Hallows might’ve been preeeeetty bland. But you want Harry to succeed, you want to know more about Dumbledore, you want to see Hermione just DOING STUFF — if I love the characters, I don’t care as much if a book has plot holes, or slow scenes, or even lazy writing at times.

    Whereas, if the characters are flat or bland, the rest of the book had better be flawless, because it’s got to overcome quite the hurdle. I don’t think there’s ever been a book or series that I’ve got invested in JUST because of the plot. High stakes don’t matter if you don’t care about the characters that are in trouble! But there have definitely been so-so books that I’ve gotten in DEEP because I love the characters themselves and want to see what happens next. So, yeah. Character over plot all the way.

  6. I totally agree – character is what makes plot interesting. Plot is maybe what makes the characters exciting – their arc and the events that reveal the characters. I’ve learned a lot from Maggie Steifvater’s blog posts on using plot to reveal the characters. Trying to implement it in my own writing has made working with plot both easier and more interesting. And it makes it easier to see character arc and make sure you move them through that.

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