Thursday, 16 September 2010

Which is more important: Character or plot?

People are what stories are about. Readers read to live vicariously through the characters in the book. If they can't identify with those characters, the story falls flat.

Of course a story needs a well drawn, believable cast of characters. But a book with only well drawn characters and no plot is not a story. It's a character study. You need to decide whose story you are telling and what will happen to them at the outset, when you first formulate your premise. Your choice of character is paramount. He must be ripe for this story to happen to him, or your story won't engage.

So why have you chosen him? What is he lacking that he needs to learn from going through this experience? How will it change him? Get this right and your character will react and drive the plot as they sort out their personal issues. It's called a Character Arc and it's as old as storytelling itself. For a more detailed analysis check out these books:
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey

Your character should be interesting rather than likeable - some of the most compelling literary characters are utterly deplorable human beings! - and they should be flawed in some way they are not aware of.

How to make characters real? To write a convincing characterisation you have to know them as you would a friend. There's more to that than a list of attributes and a CV. To flesh out your characters you could try an online journal or blog. Write in the voice of the character, play at being them. It's a good way to explore their attitudes and background, but don't fall into the trap of trying to put all that information into your book or you'll end up with the dreaded info dump!

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