Monday, August 24, 2009

A Delicate Balance

At the moment I'm reading a book by a phenomenally successful author which was handed to me a few days ago (I'd run out of reading material, horror of horrors). He was unsatisfied with it but couldn't put a finger on why. After a reading a few chapters I suggested that perhaps it was because this book is all plot and no character. This got me to thinking, "How do we as writers balance this successfully?"

Plots are obviously essential - but to my way of thinking so are well-rounded realistic characters. I've always been interested in not just what people do but why. 'Why' fascinates me. Everyone has their own quirks and their own histories which will colour their decisions. Are they a front-of-the crowd type of person or are they happier in the background? Quietly content with their own company or do they have the need to be constantly surrounded by others? Stock characters bore me - the evil landlord, the poor but noble peasant, the beautiful yet shallow temptress; I want to meet someone more interesting.

I have tried to people my books with characters that readers will relate to. Each of them reacts to plot developments in their own way because each of their histories are different - like real people. I have been told that my books are character-driven, not plot-driven which is interesting considering that I write mysteries.

This book that I'm reading certainly has a plot that moves at a breathless pace and in that respect it is a page turner. I just prefer to read (and write) books that have characters that you don't know instantly. I like to discover the twists and turns of the character's psyches as I follow the unfolding events. That, for me, makes the book's world a real one and not something flat printed on a page.


  1. If I had to choose, I think I'd rather read a book with great characters, rather than great plot. Of course, it's best to have both. ;0)

    And yeah. Readers should get acquainted with characters as the book progresses. The main characters, anyway. It's always good to have a few stock characters sitting around handy, though, just in case you need an instant bad guy or something.

  2. For me, character has to be present because there has to be someone behind all that action. And so often the plot comes to me as the result of someone's voice. (And I like to get inside people's heads too, I suppose.) Besides that, I love dialogue, thus I need people to talk to each other.

  3. you know, elspeth, my comments get lost on your blog. I was here earlier, but, no trace. Galen.

  4. Jack; I agree with you completely. Stock characters can be handy but I don't like them being the majority of the population!

    Elisa; You like dialogue...hmmmm...who does this remind me of?

    Galen; No idea why your comments disappear - you are a highly valued addition!

  5. Elspeth, your blog is one of those I enjoy dropping by from time to time. As a result, I'm passing on the Kreativ Blogger Award to you and a few others tomorrow (Tuesday) at my blog:

  6. I'm with you on this one. Even a plot-driven novel must have good characters. A Character-driven novel must have great characters.

  7. Patricia; Thank you in advance! All this positive reenforcement is wonderful for my ego!

    Jennifer; Glad you agree. Thanks for your thoughts!


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