23 January 2012

Character or Plot? What matters most?

Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?So, this question has been rolling around in my head the past couple of weeks. Before the...book...I finally committed myself to recently, I had another one I was developing, where the plot was really strong, but the characters? Well, they needed some work. Hence the reason I probably have it shelved right now (not that I won't go back to it, just right now it won't work...).

And that led me to the question, what matters most - plot or characters? Is there a time when one matters over another?

After all is said and done, really both have a strong purpose in a book, but people seem to think that it means different things...here's what some of you said:

What came first - the chicken or the egg?

John Rakestraw that responded to me via GooglePlus put it like this. "It’s sort of like the chicken and the egg… plot and character. Without a plot and structure the story has nowhere to go, no movement. The readers get bored, confused and put the book down, never to pick it up again.

"If your story has no structure, no beginning, no middle and no end, then as a writer, you have not fulfilled your end of the writer / reader relationship. The truth is that stories need both plot and characters. Now, we know that stories originate from plot, but without the characters pushing the plot along, a person does this and that person does that, there is no reason for the reader to care enough to keep turning the page. That is how we produce stories that contain both captivating plots and entrancing characters.

"I don’t see it as one over the other, story development is about balance. Sound writing should not be about throwing the plot and characters against each other to see who wins out! It should be more about finding the balance between them."

And he makes a good point, you really can't have one without the other. A good plot becomes really boring if a character is about as interesting as a rock.

Depends on Genre

Mark West from Twitter mentioned this, "Depends on Genre - "literary" is character driven, thriller/horror/sci-fi is generally plot driven."

And he's right. I mean, it's not like horror stories can't have fully developed characters, but really, that isn't why I'm really reading the book. I want to scare myself half to death - and isn't that plot? (Okay, not always, I know).

Character Matters Most

EmporerSexy on reddit.com told me, "I feel that a good character, that is, one complex and active in their decisions, will make a good plot. A good plot will not necessarily have good characters.

"To use television for example, Breaking Bad revolves around the protagonist and the morally questionable decisions he makes. These decisions have consequences that lead to events. The character drives the plot.

"On the other hand, take a show like CSI, which yes, has interesting characters, but is mostly plot driven. It's more about solving the mystery than understanding how the characters are feeling and how they make their decisions. The plot exists on its own, and the characters kind of inhabit it.

"Both kinds of stories are entertaining, but if you have to aim for one, aim for good character, one who will make compelling decisions that will affect the future of the world around them. You will have a good plot emerge out of that."

That's true...it's a lot easier to make something out of a book when the characters are strong. You have to be a really good writer to pull of a strong plot line with weak character development (it happens, of course, but still that isn't always easy).

And reality_engineer on reddit.com said the same, "I am a fan of plots, foremost, but even a genius plot will suck with bland characters. Strong character can work with a boring plot, an example would be Harry Potter, where the plot is totally flat, but it still works. So I'd say character is the most important for most audiences. Also see: reality television - almost purely based on character, very popular."

And that's a fantastic point...if you watch reality tv, you will note that not much happens. It's the personality of the people that make it fascinating. Well, if you don't watch much reality tv, here is a fantastic example of when character just makes the entire story that much more interesting. Watch this:

So, I think I've come to the conclusion that character matters just a little bit more than plot. Although plot matters too.

Cause no matter how little you know about the character...

...if the plot makes your heart beat really fast....

Then you know you will still have a really good story...

Intense Relationship



So what do you think? What matters most - character or plot?


  1. I think I'd have to go with both are about equal in importance. I have had people say I write very character driven stories, but because the way I understand plot is the steps that occur from a character's reaction to what's going on around them, it seems to me that they are practically one in the same. However, plot and subplot are still rather amorphous ideas to me, so I could be very wrong!

  2. I actually just came from the Writer's Digest conference and this was a topic at one of the seminars. Both are equally as important.


    Because without raw, real characters, readers will not care what happens to them because they don't care about the character. So, they'll put the book down because they just don't care.

    But without an exciting plot, there's no room for a character to grow or change and there's nothing going on in the book. So readers will put down the book because they're bored.

    One of the agents who was asked a similar question on a panel said something like this: "I want good storytelling with characters I really care about."

    Talk about pressure!

  3. I think the point of a story is to get to know the character. Not where they're for, or what school they went to. Really know them. And the onlyway to do that isn't by whattheysay or think, it's by what they do. it's what they do when things get difficult and awkward. What you do when things get difficult and awkward is called a plot.

    The most important part of the story is the plot because it's the only way to get to really know the characters.

    Plot doesn't mean running around with guns or looking for treasure. It can all happen in one room with just one person in it.

    The goal of a plot is just a device to keep the reader reading. What's important is what people do, why they do it, and how they deal with the consequnces. Because actions reveal character.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  4. I like to create characters. In so doing I look for ways to give them distinguishing traits or characteristics that will make them memorable. Then I try to put them in situations within the plot that moves the story along. They have equal importance in storytelling.

  5. @Lara Schiffbauer - I think you are right! You really can't have one without the other - and you wouldn't have the character react to anything if you hadn't had something happen before hand. Good point!

    @Vicki Orians - Wow, that's all they need? Psh, no problem! (total sarcasm, could you hear it in my tone??) But very good point - what's the fun of a cool, well-developed character if you can't see them squirm under pressure!!

    @mooderino- Very true!! You can only really know a character by what happens to them. The background can be important, but it can only do so much. It's sort of like how we know ourselves is through the hardest times...

    @James Ross - yup, its sounds like an awesome recipe, doesn't it? Take a risky/exciting situation, add a dash of danger, a dash of the unexpected, shake and stir in a character and you get a fantastic story. :)

  6. Interesting, colorful, engaging characters can make you forget about a boring plot, but an out-of-this-world plot will fall on its face if you don't care about the characters and they put you to sleep!


  7. I don't think it's an either/or situation. You need both to have strong characters and a strong plot. Otherwise the story doesn't hold up.

  8. On that reality TV show Nicole, wouldn't that be called a lack of character? LOL Great post!

  9. I totally get what you're saying. In our fiction text in my creative writing class, it talked about people saying something is either plot-driven or character-driven... but the truth is that they're interchangable and making the distinction is kinda pointless.
    I know when I write, my characters drive the plot. I have to find out what happens to them. Usually I'll have a vague idea of a plot but my characters are what get introduced first in nearly all cases. And usually the story works out better that way. If I try to plan the plot without knowing the players really well, it kinda falls apart.

  10. Both are important to me. I enjoy flawed characters who come full circle to enlightenment, but the plot is what leads them there.

  11. The plot is what gets me to pick up a book in the first place, but the characters keep me reading.

  12. Just stopping by from bassgiraffe's Thursday Blog Hop. Would love it if you visited and followed us too!

  13. I agree it can be genre driven but there still needs to be balance overall. I need to care a little about character X to invest time into his reasoning for doing Y and Z. :)


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