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September 30, 2016

September 30, 2016

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Character vs Plot?

September 30, 2016

Plot is what you give your characters to work with...or at least it should be. It forms the structure of the story - but not exclusively -  and presents scenarios and situations for your characters to deal with. It links action elements in a relational way - that is, focussing on what happens consequently rather than subsequently. It is the difference between "this happens then that happens" and "this happens because that happened." The characters are the elements that the plot happens to. But characters should be regarded as people in their own right and should be allowed to function as such. You should spend as much time on character development as you do on plot structure and when you have done you end up with people that to you and in your mind are as real as anyone you know. The paring or rather merging of plot and character can then be problematic and more so if you have characters and a plot that are equally strong.

 

Something's gotta give ...

 

Some authors work with character, essentially working with "people." They create a scenario or a situation and throw very well-rounded characters into the mix and see what happens and then they develop a plot based upon the characters' natural reactions to challenges and conflict of those situations. There actions give rise to the development of a plot. This works well because the plot is defined essentially by the characters themselves.

 

But, there are stories that "need" to focus on plot just as strongly as character and the issue is in creating a balance between the two. Some authors have a very clear idea of what they need to happen in a story and the points at which actions need to take place to ensure the occurrence of a twist, or to set the plot unit up for another specific turn of events. And to be honest, if you're following the conventional three-act method, introduction of character, rising action, point of reversal...story arc...yada, yada yada, then you're bound to a point by conformity. This is fine as long as your plot isn't too tightly structured. To do so would be to create nice little boxes ( plot units) that will restrict the development of your characters because they can evolve only within the parameters of those "boxes." As soon as they strain against their sides and spill over into another "box" then they threaten the plot structure as we have a chain-reaction effect on those plot units.

 

I think plot structure is important. Of course it is; without it there would be nothing for your characters to deal with. But, I think character is more important because after all, your story is about people, about Jane the single mother of three, about Toby the lawyer turned serial killer and without good characters you essentially have a sequence of events steering two-dimensional people to an outcome that you have already set firmly in place. I always have an ending to a story in place before I even start writing the first draft. I do this for two reasons: firstly, I need to see ahead, a final destination, like planning a physical journey across the country. Secondly, I need an ending in place to gauge the development of the characters. If the characters act in a way that brings about my predefined conclusion then I know I've got a problem. Because this then means that my characters have not developed beyond the structuring of the first draft. I want them to change the story. I need them to take control and steer the story in a direction based upon who they are. So, I have a plot but it's not rigid. It allows the characters to shape it.

 

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