Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Plot or Character? -- Or Is It Voice?

It’s the age old question. Which is more important? Character or plot? As far as I can tell, it depends on who you talk to.

For me, it’s all about the plot. Hands down. I’m not belittling the importance of having a great character, but in my opinion, it’s nearly impossible to have a great character without a great plot, or at least a good one. It’s the character’s struggle against the plot that makes us care about him in the first place. No matter how sympathetic you’ve made your character, no matter how many habits and peculiarities you lovingly lavished on your MC—unless those traits somehow interact with the plot in an interesting way, no one will care about them. You may think having your MC be afraid of snakes is funny, but if the plot doesn’t give him a compelling reason to fight his way through snakes, no one will even remember that phobia.

Think about Harry Potter. A kid who lost his parents when he was a baby. Someone we can sympathize with, no doubt. But other than that, he’s pretty much a generic nice guy, with about as flat a character arc as it’s possible to have in a fantasy adventure. (I’m just talking the first book here – not the series.) Yet we all love Harry. Why? Because of all the things that happened to him as a consequence of the plot.

But that’s not the real point of this post. Today I’m wondering where “voice” fits in alongside plot and character on the importance scale. Ever since I received my Kindle, I've been blasting my way through lots of books—mostly fantasy. And to be honest, many of the stories have the same basic plot. Oh, certain details may be different, but the plot is roughly the same. The middle school kid, teenager, vampire, mage, demon hunter, angel, etc, has to save the world by facing and defeating the bad guy. The names change, along with the rules of the world, but they’re all pretty similar. Nothing wrong with that, of course. The classic hero’s journey has been around a long time. It’s the world-building and other little details that make the stories different.

Still, as I peruse book descriptions on Amazon or back cover blurbs at the local bookstore, they all sound about the same. And the only way I can decide which to buy is by reading the first chapter and getting a feel for the author’s voice. Because the exact same story can be told by two different authors, and I can end up loving one of them and being bored to tears by the other. Does the author spend too much or too little time on descriptions and internal thoughts? Do the words flow like a hot knife through butter? Does the author have a sense of humor? These are the things that make or break a book for me these days.

There are plenty of books out there with good plots and good characters, but with all the competition these days, it may just be “voice” that wins out in the end.

So how do you go about making your voice unique?


  1. Great post.

    I think they're all important to a point. Sometimes plot can save the story, but I've seen many a book with a great or unique premise fail on execution.

    1. You're right, Melissa. They are so many parts of the book that have to be well-executed for us to enjoy the. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I've read few books with great voice in recent years. I think that's what made Anna Banks' Of Poseidon break out. Snarky humor. I think humor is the common denominator of all the books I love. You have that, so no worries.

    1. Hopefully my humor levels won't plummet as the eventual rejection notices come piling in