August 24th, 2011

Plot vs. Character – Which Side are You On?

Before I jump into today’s post, I just want to remind you to stop back on Friday for our next Fabulous Friday guest blogger, multi-published author, Louisa Bacio!

Part 1 of a series

This part brought to you by Laura Drake. Check back Monday when Fae Rowen presents the opposite viewpoint.

People have a hard time even agreeing on the definitions of plot-driven vs. character-driven. I’ve had an hour long argument with an English professor friend about whether the term “literary fiction” even exists.   I don’t want to go there again. Let’s just agree there are many shades of grey, and use Justice Potter Stewart’s porn definition,“I know it when I see it.”

The easiest way to illustrate the difference between a plot driven and character driven book is by example:

Plot-driven Stories:

Die Hard
Patriot Games
Angels & Demons
The Bourne Identity

Plot is featured prominently. The characters are, at the extreme end, only generic – there to carry out the plot.

Character-driven Stories:

Jane Eyre
The Catcher in the Rye
Native Son
Pride and Prejudice

Characters are more important than what happens. The extreme end of the spectrum prompted the term, “Navel Gazing.”

Which is better?  We all know it’s not really a war – the best books are a perfect blend of both.  Good examples that come to my mind are:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Hunger Games
  • Avatar
  • Atlas Shrugged

Two of my favorite authors come to mind as well — Pat Conroy and Jodi Piccoult.

When you began writing, do you recall making a conscious choice between the two?  I sure didn’t. Like your voice, your choice is influenced by your personality, your tastes and your experiences.

When you sit down to write a book, what comes to you first?

For me, it’s a character. The only part I get of plot in the beginning is the setting. The rest comes after I know my main character(s.) I really have to work at finding engaging, gripping things for my wonderful characters to do.

Plotting Tools

Since I need to focus on improving my weaknesses, I’ve amassed a lot of plotting tools. I’ll share them with you here. For those of you who need help with character, check back on Wednesday – our own Fae Rowen is going to have tips for you.

  1. You may want to try an Index Card Method.
  2. I am a huge Randy Ingermanson fan. You may know him as ‘The Snowflake Guy.’ He created a plotting method that’s fascinating.
  3. Blake Snyder was an amazing teacher of screenplay writing and plotting that we lost recently. His ‘Beat Sheet’ really helps me be sure all the elements are there, in the right order. If you don’t have his book, Save the Cat on your bookshelf, you should.
  4. T.N. Tobias has an article on Ten Ways To Create a Plot Twist.
  5. Glen Strathy has written a great article, How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps.
  6. The amazing Donald Maas wrote an article for Writer Unboxed that may help you, entitled, The Elements of Awe.
  7. Linda George has a great blog, Plotting for Writers.
  8. Software abounds. Here’s a review of 10 of them.  Storybook is free shareware. Randy Ingermanson has the Snowflake Pro.

I could go on and on, but I think that gives you enough to start with.

So now, your turn. Which side are you on — plot or character?  What works for you? Do you have any suggestions of plotting methods for us?

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