Good Writing is Often a Question of Character

On the argument of Character vs. Plot I tend to side with the former.  I think a story with a strong character connects faster with readers than a plot-driven story. Then again the strongest story is one in which both character and plot are very strong and work together.Books with characterization and plot tend to be my favorite. Fleming was good at both.

There are always counter-examples where this may not be true, of course. Such is writing. And readers. Some readers honestly prefer plot-driven stories. How else can you explain Tom Clancy’s success? I read two or three of his novels back in the day and couldn’t go any further. His characters were pure cardboard, but the plots were great. Same for two of the biggest SF writers: Clarke and Asimov. They were superb on plot and sometimes lacking on characterization. On the flip side Heinlein was a very good character-driven writer. Lazarus Long, Mike the Computer, Podkayne, these are a few of the examples in his fiction of long-standing iconic characters. Same for Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creation of Tarzan. I love the Tarzan novels. The plots are forgettable. It’s Tarzan we remember.

Novels that do double duty, however, tend to be my favorite. Moby-Dick is a good example of outstanding characterization and a memorable plot. Dune, by Frank Herbert, is another. Dr. No by Ian Fleming does double duty in this regard, I think. Bond is definitely a memorable character and the plot of the book is a superb framework.

There are tons of other examples, and lots and lots of examples that don’t agree with my supposition. But speaking for myself I tend to gravitate toward character driven stories. Finding a story that has both characterization and plot is a special gem.

Which story is easiest to write? Well, I don’t think any story is easy to write. But I suppose if all you are doing is laying down a plot and stuffing it with interchangeable cardboard heroes…well, that should give you some clue.

Fortunately, there are lots of different writers who write lots of different stories for lots of different readers. There is no one format or guideline to writing and I hope during the existence of this blog I have shown that.

But some readers do prefer certain styles, as do some writers. That’s the world. Knowing the difference, and being able to make a judgment as to which makes the story stronger, character, plot, or both, is a necessary tool for any successful writer.

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6 Comments

  1. If I hadn’t fallen in love with my characters I would have never finished my book.

    Dr. Tom Bibey, author, “The Mandolin Case”

    Reply
  2. K.M., after thinking this over a bit, I find that I agree with you that strong characters are more important to a story/novel than the plot. I decided this because I thought, “If the characters are not strongly developed and unforgettable, who cares what they did or didn’t do?”

    Reply
  3. Your post comes coincidentally (or not) at a time when I am struggling with the main character of one of my novels that I have recently dug out to submit to a writing contest. After re-reading just the opening chapter, I realized she is so guarded there is nothing the reader (nor I) can sympathize with.

    I have always been a plot girl, but I also believe in character not characterization and that a character’s actions/reactions will drive/inform the plot (if you let them). With that being said, the conversations and interviews I’m having with my protagonist may well in fact change the entire “plot” of the novel.

    Has this ever happened to you and do you have any tried and true methods of discovering your characters other than characterization questionnaires?

    Reply

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