This week I came across this post on David Farland's blog about the relative importance of characters. The point of the post was simple. Although many experts may harp on how characters are the most important part of a story, that’s not always true.
And I agree 100%.
I’ve always been a “plot over character” kind of guy. It’s not that I think character is unimportant, but I’ve generally found it’s the plot that allows the reader to understand and connect to that character in the first place. You can assign all sorts of eccentricities and habits and backstory to a character, but if the plot doesn’t make use of those traits, then who cares?
In other words, I believe that while you can have a great plot and a so-so character, you can’t have a great character without a great plot. It’s the plot that makes the character great in the first place.
Take Harry Potter, for example. In the first book of the series we learn that Harry, despite having lost his parents and being forced to live with the Dursleys, is a good guy. Yay! He’s also fiercely loyal to his friends. Yay again! And he’s also kind of a boring, stereotypical character. Er, yay?
But that last bit is okay, because it’s the plot that carries us along. When we watch him struggle his way through the story, dealing with the eccentricities of the wizardring world, trying to pass his courses, and working to foil Voldermort’s plans, we begin to root for him, despite the fact that he’s a stereotype. And let’s be honest about it; Harry’s character arc was about as flat as it’s possible to be for someone who’s just learned they’re a wizard. But by the time the book is over, we’re in love with him anyway. Why? Because of the plot and how he dealt with the situations thrown his way.
I’m not trying to convert any “character over plot” readers (and writers) out there. There are plenty of great character driven books on the shelves. I was just happy to see someone take the other side of the argument for once.