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suspensewriter

Plot versus Character

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In once chapter of "Write Like the Masters,"  William Cane says this:

 

" Salinger's characters are important even in his early stories, but as tie went on his fiction became even more character focused and less plot driven."

 

I'm confused, because my novels are more plot driven.  Do you find your novels are more character driven"

               

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3 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

Do you find your novels are more character driven"

I'm a romance writer, so yes. 😄 That said, it is not a lack of plot, just that you focus on how you get your characters to fix, deal, understand, etc. The plot/problems of your story. When someone says plot-driven, I find they mean they are focused on how the plot works, and not how the characters work through the plot. (I hope that made sense) 

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I think we are back to that, 'everyone explains things a little differently'. 🙂 Which is great, because we all learn differently. Unless I'm just weird. 😄😋 

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28 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

I'm confused, because my novels are more plot driven.  Do you find your novels are more character driven"

I'd say mine are mostly plot driven. I'm happiest writing scenes that have a lot of action in them :D 

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I try to weave the two together. Detailing the plot while also sprinkling in character/ backstory-driven narrative. Otherwise, I find that you get action-heavy sequences with little narrative or character-driven narrative that is super dry because the story hasn't taken you anywhere in ages.

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I don't' know about "dry," because the action takes you forward (if it's good action), but I agree with you about the concept of weaving the two together.  But how do you do it?

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4 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

But how do you do it?

🤨 Why do I feel like this is a trick question when I know it's not?

 

By limiting your time inside your character's mind to no more than a paragraph or two per scene. 

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15 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

but I agree with you about the concept of weaving the two together.  But how do you do it?

 

Let your plot throw challenges at your characters that are rooted in their growth arc, their deep-seated fears.

 

For example, in a romance, if the male MC is afraid of being cheated on and dumped, let the plot include a female MC who has another potential love-interest hanging around her. If the male MC is worried that he's from the wrong side of the tracks and not good enough for the woman, let his love rival be from a higher social standing or "better" in some way than he is. That fuels the male MC's insecurities and heightens the tension. Plot ties into character.

 

Or as another example, in a thriller, the FBI agent is haunted by his failure to save an innocent child from a killer. The plot can include a killer who's put another innocent child in danger, playing on the FBI guy's need to redeem his early failures.

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1 hour ago, EBraten said:

Or as another example, in a thriller, the FBI agent is haunted by his failure to save an innocent child from a killer. The plot can include a killer who's put another innocent child in danger, playing on the FBI guy's need to redeem his early failures.

 

You know, I think that's true, EBraten!

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Posted (edited)

@EBraten explained what I knew, but wasn't able to figure out how to say!

 

I feel like sometimes people interpret "character-driven" as having no action, fights, save the world plot, etc. Because when people think of action, they think of something like, oh, I don't know, the Transformers movies, which is just all glitz and style and explosions in an attempt to save the world for the umpteenth time. But as long as the action ties in to the character's struggles, there can be lots of action and it still be a very character-driven piece. Think Captain America: The Winter Soldier. All the action is very much tied to and comes as a result of who Steve is as a person and how he reacts to things, especially once he learns the identity of the titular villain. 

 

I always fall back on movies as examples, sorry guys! 😜

Edited by PenName
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13 hours ago, PenName said:

I always fall back on movies as examples, sorry guys! 😜

 

I don't think you'd have any reason to apologize for that; you're probably picking story examples that others here have a greater chance of being familiar with.

 

After all, there are far more books made than movies, and an individual book takes longer to read than to watch a movie. Just by the law of averages, many more people are likely to recognize your movie examples.

 

This probably even goes for many who don't watch a lot of movies (like myself). In fact, in spite of my watching relatively few movies in recent decades, even I use movie examples more frequently than book examples!

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Posted (edited)

In real life, I think we get to know people best by watching what they do, and the same goes for characters in fiction. 

 

When I'm writing, I have a vague outline of a character in mind, a name, a few details, and then I just think up a bunch of things for him or her to do, which thus creates a story. So maybe the story is plot-driven, but the plot is character-driven.

 

I don’t really enjoy reading or writing long periods of introspection. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Edited by Zee

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1 hour ago, Wes B said:

This probably even goes for many who don't watch a lot of movies (like myself).

 

I'm with you, brother!

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58 minutes ago, Zee said:

I don’t really enjoy reading or writing long periods of introspection. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

As you get older, Zee, that will change, and when it does, it will open a whole new world to you!

 

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18 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

 

As you get older, Zee, that will change, and when it does, it will open a whole new world to you!

 

 

Someday...when there aren't so many people all needing everything AT THE SAME TIME. Echhhh....

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I'm seeing more and more movies being character-driver, and the plot more or less of an afterthought.  A prime example of this was the latest Star Wars movies.  No forethought in an overall theme, or point, just Mary Rey Sue and her merry band of freedom fighters going to kill the big, bad dark lord.  They even had to resurrect a old "fan favorite" dark lord because they didn't have the imagination to make one of their own.

 

Everything in the script is there to subvert expectations, making every reveal a painful experience when they try to explain the laughable.

 

I personally think a story is far more satisfying then the plot drives the character, and not the other way around.

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17 hours ago, PenName said:

@EBraten explained what I knew, but wasn't able to figure out how to say!

 

I feel like sometimes people interpret "character-driven" as having no action, fights, save the world plot, etc. Because when people think of action, they think of something like, oh, I don't know, the Transformers movies, which is just all glitz and style and explosions in an attempt to save the world for the umpteenth time. But as long as the action ties in to the character's struggles, there can be lots of action and it still be a very character-driven piece. Think Captain America: The Winter Soldier. All the action is very much tied to and comes as a result of who Steve is as a person and how he reacts to things, especially once he learns the identity of the titular villain. 

 

I always fall back on movies as examples, sorry guys! 😜

 

I gotta disagree that Winter Soldier was character-driven.  Usually, character-driven stories have this arc of evolution as they react to events in their lives.  Steve Rogers is the same character at the end of the movies as he is at the beginning.  In fact, the one thing you can say about Captain America is that he is a monolith of virtue.  Natasha Romanoff is still the same.  The reactions of the main characters are ultimately predictable, 

 

The entire point of the story was about how we have gone too far in sacrificing freedom for security, putting away the moral compass for relativism, and how easy it was for the enemy to infiltrate and corrupt all of the things we hold dear because of this.  And what made the story great was how it did this in big, bold letters while still remaining nuanced.  It's also a complete journey from SHIELD being this massive security apparatus, to it being dismantled, put away into cold storage, and why that is.

 

And I also think it sad that it takes a comic book hero to make a good spy thriller these days.  :)  

 

But it was a good movie.  I mean, seriously good.

 

I think a better example would be the Iron Man movies.  Let's be honest about those: they don't have much of a plot.  They focus almost entirely on Tony Stark, and his experiences.  It's a story where Tony is constantly changing and evolving.  And yeah: lots of action.

 

Another example of plot-driven is the second Avengers movie.  An ensemble cast that builds off of the previous movie, and Tony's obsession with protecting earth.  It leads to the development of Ultron - the science experiment gone horribly wrong.  It ends with the creation of Vision - the thing Tony didn't know he was looking to make.  The form of life Tony had started creating with Jarvis, and that took Ultron to ultimately finish.  It's a story about unintended consequences, and how when something goes wrong, sometime it ends up righting itself in unpredictable ways.

 

 

 

 

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I like Orson Scott Card's analysis in Characters and Viewpoint. Instead of two elements, he sees four. This may be your problem: seeing only character and plot you are missing other things.

 

The four elements are milieu, idea, character and event. He calls it MICE for short.

 

Milieu is an alien world, or a richly described historical set in ancient Rome, or a deep dive into the sixties subculture. It is about place, culture, and language. Does your setting come alive like another charcter? Novels big on milieu include Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter series, Dune.

 

Idea centers on an idea: the abolition movement, what happens if robots become sentient, the effect of social media on politics. Lots of horror and sci-fi stories are idea stories. Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Coma.

 

Character is the character driven stuff we have been discussing.

 

Event is not just event-driven, it is Event with a capital E: comet strikes the earth, zombie apocalypse, a cure for old age and how it is denied to the poor, the aftermath of the rapture. Lucifer's Hammer, Armegeddon, I am Legend, Left Behind.

 

Every story has varying degrees of each - the MICE index. If your story does not feel rich enough, increase the importance of one of the weaker MICE elements.

 

Milieu is always an important part of my stories. I designed whole worlds for a few novels. I am halfway though one novel about trolls set in Cambridge and Boston. Even though it is set close to the present in a typical American city, I worked hard to create a unique culture and environment for the story, making commonplace things magical.

 

Idea is also vitally important to me. Finding that idea is challenging; so many writers have taken all the original ones!

 

All my stories involve some critical and fantastic event (as well as many smaller but unusual events sprinkled throughout), but I try to avoid the cliched approach that follows ten strangers all brought together in the end by their response to the event.

 

My weakness is character. I do this to turn it into a strength. Readers want to solve a mystery. What will happen next? They also want to care about the hero or herione. The plot is not a great mystery for me, because as the writer I know what will happen. But I love mysteries! How can I, while writing, get the same thrill as a reader looking to solve a mystery? I have made my mystery discovering my characters. As I write, I begin to understand my characters, their personality and flaws, figure out how they will respond to events, and adapt my story. My mystery is learning who they are. If I succeed, then I am able to lift up the weakest part of my prose. More importantly, since my characters surprise me, I hope they will also surprise my readers.

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

@Jeff Potts, the recent Star Wars movies are such a mess that I don't know if I can call them plot or character driven. 😜 Case in point: Why is Rey helping the Resistance by the time Episode 8 starts? Why is she ragging on Luke for not helping the Resistance? The entire time in Episode 7, she was running from the Skywalker saber and telling everyone she had to get home to Jakku. She put her foot down about not getting involved. Nothing happened that we are shown changed her perspective, though I can think of missed opportunities for showing it change. Don't get me wrong, I love Star Wars, even the prequels, and even Episode 7. But 8 and 9 are an example of too many cooks in the kitchen at Disney whose right hands didn't know what their left hands were doing. 

 

I'll push back a little on Winter Soldier. Steve is a paragon figure to be sure, and his core values don't change (unlike Tony). But the way he puts them to use changes a lot in that movie. Winter Soldier turns Steve into the person he is in Civil War.

 

By the time Civil War rolls around, Tony and Steve have effectively switched places. Tony is willing (begging, almost) to march for Secretary Ross' shady establishment and even look the other way when things are ... questionable, because he (or his company) has created his own villains over and over (Stane, Vanko, Killian, Ultron) and people have died as a result. He is craving oversight, whereas before he was completely unwilling to have anyone telling him what to do. His experiences in the previous movies have brought him to this point.

 

Steve is done with establishments like Ross' by Civil War. He's not WWII Steve anymore, because of the events of Winter SoldierWinter Solider taught him that the world is, in many ways, far more complex than it was when everyone was united against a common enemy. If he'd lived to see the Cold War he would have realized that real quick, but he didn't have that experience. He was a WWII poster boy and he entered modern times thinking things would be the same way. When he realizes the questionable decisions of SHIELD it puts him up against a wall, and he's forced to stop using establishments as his evaluation of what is right. He starts using right as the evaluation of right. Or at least he thinks he is. He is really using himself as the evaluation of right, and as Christians we all know that that is a dangerous game, because that is not how the human heart works. Hence why he doesn't tell Tony who killed his parents, which blows up in his face spectacularly. 

 

The Marvel movies aren't perfect, but I thought Steve and Tony's arcs through Infinity War were really well done. I disliked Endgame for a number of reasons, though - except for Tony's arc.

 

I hope it doesn't come off like I'm saying I only like stories that are character driven. I don't. Plot driven stories can be great, and even have iconic characters. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones was an instantly iconic character coming out of that movie. And he had zero effect on the plot. Think about it. If he hadn't even existed, the Nazis still would have opened the Ark and been destroyed. End of story. 😂

Edited by PenName

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