Holly Bella Toschi's picture
Holly Bella Toschi from San Francisco is reading "Dance Dance Dance" February 25, 2015 - 11:15am

Hi!

I've noticed a lot of recent submissions on LR that focus on plot and story building and tend to focus less on character development.  As a writer, I tend to craft a story beginning with a character in mind and allow the plot/story to build around him or her. To me, the marrow of any great story is based on characters a reader can identify or connect with and/or feel something for.   Don't get me wrong--creating plausible plots and crafting brilliant scenes is essential to a story that keeps the attention of a reader, but if the character(s) is/are under-developed, I find myself having a hard time really connecting with the story overall.

That said, I'm curious to know how other writers approach storytelling; specifically, whether the plot builds the character(s) or vice-versa?  Thoughts?

Keiri LaPrade's picture
Keiri LaPrade from Virginia is reading Beowulf February 25, 2015 - 10:47pm

I think that characters are super important to the plot.  Their actions and reactions drive the force of events that happen (of course there's always the inevitable events that can't be changed but they still have choices with in them).  

Creating the plot and story is important aswell but how the story develops is really dependant on the characters (atleast that's how I feel).    But characters need to match the needs of the plot. For instance, if the character is kinda a push over or really shy they wouldn't be a good fit for a lead role in a political drama.  We also have to think about character growth within the story aswell.  How does the character change to fit the role they are pushed into or how does acheieving that life goal change the character.

I think it's more complicated than just spliting it into two seperate things.  

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 28, 2015 - 1:43pm

I kind of think plot is an outdated idea. Over and over again you see characters doing stuff they'd just never do, and I don't mean characters can't ever make a mistake, just because plot.  And when that happens, I just stop reading/watching.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel February 28, 2015 - 2:59pm

The plot is the building that needs to be constructed. The character is the tool that will build the building. He will start off as not the right tool, and then find a way to become the right tool. 

I'm a plot driven person. I personally don't identify with characters. I identify with problems. By that person finding a way to solve the problem, I will come to like or hate them. What do I know about a teenage girl in high school? I've never been one. I've been in high school and know about bullies. That's something I can relate to. Oh, lets see how a teenage girl comes of age to handle these situations that I have also experienced. Maybe it will shed light on my own life. 

What do I know of being an insurance claim investigator, like the narrator is in Fight Club? I've never been one. But I understand feeling stuck in a capitalist world. I can share that with the narrator. I can see what they do to solve this problem and how I can learn something from them. 

Give me a problem I can relate to, then I will find a way to have sympathy/empathy for the protagonist. You can't give me a character and try and force me to care about them. We haven't shared an experience. 

And that's my two cents.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 1, 2015 - 2:55am

I think that is more conflict and less plot.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel March 2, 2015 - 2:25pm

I think you're right, Dwayne. Now, we have conflict. How do we develop the plot?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 4, 2015 - 8:40am

The only question I ask is, "What would logically happen next?" When it gets boring, story over.

Holly Bella Toschi's picture
Holly Bella Toschi from San Francisco is reading "Dance Dance Dance" March 4, 2015 - 10:53am

Great thoughts!

@ Jose:  As Stephen King says, write what you know.  While I absolutely subscribe to this ideology, I also think that a great character is one whom I may not agree with their choices or lifestyle, but I empathize/sympathize with their beliefs and motivations.  A good writer is someone who demonstrates both in a character, and allows the reader to "connect" with them regardless of circumstance. 

 

Holly Bella Toschi's picture
Holly Bella Toschi from San Francisco is reading "Dance Dance Dance" March 4, 2015 - 10:57am

@ Dwayne: I'm a reader who cannot refrain from dissecting every element of a story for credibility and authenticity.  Blame this on my psychology background, but every word and detail of a story should support and further the story's plot and character arc(s.)  I like surprise and tension, but it needs to be believable relative to the character presented.  But the challenge is connecting plot and character in such a way to keep it interesting and relatable.

 

Richard the Heade's picture
Richard the Heade from Boston is reading As I Lay Dying March 4, 2015 - 6:50pm

I agree with Dwayne. The stories I like best are most often character stories. What the conflict is, what the plot is, is only relevant to me as a point of reference for the characters and how they have behaved / will behave. Even if the plot were something as mundane as two people arguing over a box of cereal in the supermarket, as long as the characters were well-written I'd read it. My example may be a bit glib, but you get the point. 

People have conflict every day in their lives, and it's based on all our life experience as well as our emotions that we decide how to react to each one. Sometimes it's a rational decision, sometimes not. People act wildly unpredicatble all the time, even in what we as an outsider to any given situation would consider a no-brainer. Logic is not always a factor. So for me, I don't even necessarily need a story to be believable all the time, just plausible to a certain extent. Chaos, irrationality, unpredictability, these things are present all the time, and they're fine by me in a story. If someone loses their job, in real life that's just the way it goes, but in a novel that's a plot device? What if that person was the worst employee ever? Had a bad day and offended someone in this ultra-PC world? Stole from their employer? These questions speak to character, and that's what I'd be more interested in reading about. The reasoning behind the why.

The more I think about it, the more I feel Dwayne's right. Plot feels outdated.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal March 4, 2015 - 8:57pm

I think that is more conflict and less plot.

Should the two even be separated? 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 5, 2015 - 7:16am

Yes. Conflict is opposition between 2 or more things, plot is the events of a story. You need to be aware of conflict or there is no story, focusing on plot makes things outdated and gives reasonable questions meta answers.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal March 5, 2015 - 10:15am

My point is: conflict is what makes a plot interesting, right? 

How about this- conflict is to plot, as bricks are to a chimney.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 5, 2015 - 12:02pm

Plot are the events of the story. If you focus on the events you get plot-based stories, which often don't make sense. If you focus on the characters things often flow better. Conflict just gets things going, regardless of focus.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 5, 2015 - 4:51pm

@Dwayne -- I think I get what you mean. Conflict is distinct from plot and characters because it applies to (and can be caused by) both the plot and the characters. Two people's personalities don't agree: character conflict (which could involve some plot). Two people have a fight to the death, the winner of which gets to join a gang: plot conflict (which involves at least two characters, however minor one or more might be).

Is that the idea?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 5, 2015 - 8:25pm

I'd say that conflict is neutral to plot and character. Or maybe hits both?

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day March 5, 2015 - 8:28pm

That said, I'm curious to know how other writers approach storytelling; specifically, whether the plot builds the character(s) or vice-versa?  Thoughts?
 

I think this is the basic measure of literary versus genre fiction. Literary is first and foremost about the characters and their inner lives, whereas genre is about stuff that happens like murders and dinosaur theme parks.

 


I personally don't identify with characters. I identify with problems. By that person finding a way to solve the problem, I will come to like or hate them.

Kind of splitting hairs, no?  Problems only exist relative to characters' inner lives. Problem:  Character A wants to get the girl/guy/promotion at work. But this is only a problem because Character A wants something s/he doesn't have. And that wanting is inherent to their personality, i.e. their character. And the more intangible the want, the more detailed the character must be in order for their to be a story. So, wanting to win survive the zombie apocalypse is a pretty basic want, and a story can be made out of most any character in that situation. But wanting something like self-actualization or empathy in an increasingly apathetic world requires a very drawn out character in order to work.

My point is: conflict is what makes a plot interesting, right?


I think conflict is what makes a plot.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 6, 2015 - 6:46am

Conflict is what makes a plot.

You can have a plot without conflict, but it might be boring. (Some say it would automatically be boring.)

X happened, then Y, then Z: the end — Wouldn't this be a plot, regardless of amount of struggle?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 6, 2015 - 4:49pm

Yeah, it is a plot by definition. I'd think a bad one, but a plot.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 7, 2015 - 3:41pm

So, RE: the original point, you could theoretically have plot without characters, just as you can have a character portrait without any plot. Therefore, I can't say that either necessarily defines the other.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal March 7, 2015 - 10:13pm

I'd say that conflict is neutral to plot and character. Or maybe hits both?

 

well that depends on what the conflict is. could be character vs. character, or character vs. plot. (not to mention setting.)

 

You can have a plot without conflict, but it might be boring. (Some say it would automatically be boring.)

i would agree that it's automatically boring. unless maaaaybe there's a comedy going on of some sort? even still, that's hard to imagine.