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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Is The Best Fiction Plot Or Character Driven?

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...Image via Wikipedia
Following on from yesterday's post, about character development, I'd like to explore how writers develop stories, and discover from readers whether they prefer plot or character driven tales.

All my fiction is character driven. I've tried writing from plot – I once wrote 80,000 words of a thriller in longhand and binned the whole thing because I didn't connect with any of the characters. If I couldn't connect, how could I expect my readers to empathise?

Although fiction is no more than a mirror to life, it deals with relationships more than any other aspect of living. Relationships are the lifeblood of social life and inherently dependent on the nature of the characters involved. It seems to me, therefore, that a book that pays little attention to character development is less a reflection on real life and more a narrative on imagined actions. There can be little depth in such fiction, surely? In order to create a work with any real meaning, isn't it essential for the writer to get into the skin of his characters?

There's a gender factor here, of course. And I understand I'll inevitably offend some people when I suggest that action novels are popular amongst the male readership because a lot of men are emotionally immature. Do you agree? The hugely successful genre of 'romance' is frequently vilified, mostly by men, for being too sentimental. Whilst I've read romance which falls into that category, I've read a great deal more that deals honestly and in depth with real emotion and depicts thoroughly imagined people travelling through events that test and question them. In fact, I'd say that the most satisfying reads I've enjoyed have been, in one sense or another, in the romance genre.

Plot driven fiction is generally action led; the Bond books, war stories, much science fiction, westerns, are all the sort of escapist fiction where little effort goes into the true natures of the characters. In these stories, stereotypes are often considered good enough to carry through the action. As long as movement is rapid and compelling enough, it takes the reader through the story without allowing time for the pause that might raise the questions; why is he doing this? What motivates this person? Does he have any finer feelings? But these questions are often of little interest to the readers of such books.

I realise, of course, that there are romances where action takes a front seat, in the same way as there are novels with intricate plots where character provides the momentum. But I've tried, here, to form the basis of a discussion by making a few suggestions.

Now it's your turn. Please comment and let me know your take on this topic. I'd be interested to know whether you're making your contribution as a reader or a writer, by the way.

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