Thursday, September 11, 2014

Plot Uber Characters?

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.


  1. I'm probably more character than plot but it does take both to make a great story.

  2. You know it's funny you say that about Harry, because I was thinking about him in that aspect recently. I did a post for Project MG Mayhem proposing that a good hero needs flaws. But then I came up against Harry, and I floundered. What flaws does Harry have? Isn't he practically perfect? He loses his temper once or twice. He breaks rules (all in a good cause though). You are right. The plot and the world-building carry Harry. If we put Harry in a less engaging plot ... he wouldn't have become iconic, would he?

  3. You definitely have a point there. I always try to have fun characters, but I do look at plot and the direction the characters must go very closely. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  4. Wow. I never tried to analyze Harry but I think his biggest flaw was that he wasn't very smart. And that never changed. Events propelled his rise from downtrodden boy to victorious wizard. But I thought the parcel-tongue? and vessel aspects made his character very interesting. Flaws with a dark edge that also gave him an edge up over Voldemort.

  5. I completely agree with you, Ken. Plenty of books are written to cater to those readers who love a fab plot over complex, interesting characters any day. Can't help but find that Memento movie a classic to be reckoned with.

    Those who write that characters are so important are not taking into account all these genres that emphasize plot over character. Although, I see Harry Potter as more of a character-based story, it still has a lot of amazing plot going on. It's sort of a series that manages to have both featured very prominently.

    I also agree with Harry not being the most interesting character, but that's more than made up for with all of his supporting cast. They are marvelous!

  6. It's good to see perspective, and I like how different people approach writing from different angles.

    I'm one of those people who struggles with plot and relies heavily on my character to take me wherever I'm going. Usually it's along the lines of "what bad decision is he going to make now?" I'll try to adhere to structure and a general idea when I'm writing, but plot get looked at and tightened after I'm finished. If I try to restrict myself beforehand, nothing gets written.

    I admire those people who can plot. It really amazes me.