The “Which is more Important” Question? Characters or Plot?
One of the key elements of a good story is the seamless mix of “something that happens” and “how the characters react/feel about it.” But, when we first start to write a story, nothing is seamless. It may be a hodge-podge of unrelated scenes or passages of emotion begging to be written but with no clear goal or point. Some writers are so into plot, (things that happen) that the characters are flat and contrived and then other writers are so into the people, (characterization) that there is no plot. In the beginning, you have to give yourself PERMISSION to get WHATEVER you have in your head, on paper, and then work out the details after that.
A girl meets a boy.
A girl meets a boy in town.
A girl meets a boy in town after a tornado destroys it.
A girl (18yrs old, tattooed, pierced) meets a boy (19yrs old, tall nerdy computer geek) in town after a tornado destroys it.
A girl (18yrs old, tattooed, pierced) meets a boy (a 19yrs old, tall nerdy computer geek) in town after a tornado destroys it. She looks down her nose at his geekiness thinking he is not worthy of her angst. He thinks she is too pretentious and portrays a shallow veneer of a person.
It’s the characterization that makes us care about a plot. A girl meets a boy… who cares? Even in the town and with the added action of the tornado, who cares? Boooring. But as soon as we put in conflicting character attributes (Goth vs. Geek) now we have character conflict and we use the plot to show how each character deals with the differences. You can have a cliché character (goth or geek) HOWEVER, the difference between well-written and boring is how well you show the internal conflict to external stimuli. Our goth girl is extremely emotional because she feels ignored, hollow and unappreciated at home with her alcoholic mother and MIA father and her affectations are the only way she feels she can impact the world. But she learns to trust in her own worthiness after saving several trapped neighbors from around town with her cohort in action, our geek boy, who knows a little about everything but never had to work with any one person to get the job done. They learn to deal with the strengths, and weaknesses they find within themselves and each other… awwwww, and now we have a story (plot) with people (characters) that we care about!
Awesomeness Personified! LOL
I find it interesting that so many people torment and torture themselves to get their 50k on paper from NaNoWriMo, (or whatever their personal writing goal is… NaNoWriMo just happens to be a National writing goal! LOL) get their little, “I Did It!” certificate, and then think whatever they wrote is crapola and never work on it again. Like the end-product was the 50K they just hammered out. Hello! It IS crapola!!! But that’s just the beginning my friends.
Imagine if you commission a contractor to build you a huge, ginormous house. And as soon as he has a few 2x4s up, you inform the contractor you have to live in it WHILE he’s building it. That means some rooms need to be a little more finished than others. Your bedroom needs to have walls and a roof, so you don’t get rained on or cold at night. The bathroom needs a toilet, BUT you could use the hose outside to wash your hands. You can use a generator with an extension cord to charge your laptop (Very important! LOL) and turn on a light but you don’t need a kitchen because you could, in theory, survive on fast foot. (Barely… but that’s all it takes! LOL) So it’s a matter of give and take. Imagine your one bedroom with carpet on the floors, pictures on the wall with a fancy bedspread and beautiful furniture. And every room outside your bedroom is bare two by fours and electrical wire strewn on the floor and plywood everywhere. And there is no front door… LOL
My point is, if you are doing something like the NaNoWriMo 50K challenge, it’s okay if some parts are more fleshed out than others, a more finished bedroom verses 2x4s and plywood. As you write, don’t worry if it’s only one or the other (character or plot). Add each a little bit at a time on the first go around and let the 2nd/3rd/4th draft finish filling out the little sections you feel read flat. It will get better each and every time you go over it. That seamless mix of “something that happens” and “how the characters react/feel about it” only comes from shaving off the high spots and filling in the low spots over and over again.
Life is good. It’s all okay.
Links to Other Sites about Topic
Interestingly enough, I wrote this article a long, long time ago but didn’t have a website to post it on at the time. It’s kind of funny now because if you do a search for “character vs plot” as the keywords, you can come up with a bunch of really cool links on the subject. If I’d only known, I may never have felt the need to write this down! LOL But, I also say, the more times you hear something said in different ways, the more confirmed you understand it. If you are just learning the trade (of writing) or are just really curious about the subject, here is more information. I always told my kids when growing up, you don’t have to know the answer to everything. You just have to know where to find the answers. Erhm… you have now found the answers! LOL (Don’t forget to read the comments at the end of these outside articles! Interesting… 😉