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Plot vs. Character: Which Is More Important?
Authors debate plot vs. character, as if the two were gladiators, waging war on
the sands of the Coliseum in some winner-take-all death battle. Both sides of
the debate claim a definitive superiority for their chosen gladiator, and for the
most part, the battle splits nicely down the lines of literary and commercial
fiction, the commercialists placing the emphasis on plot in the interest of
producing “page turners,” while the literati poke up their noses at the thought of
anything so crude and artless. So who’s right?

As in most conflicts, there is a conclusive answer. But, in this instance, it isn’t
an answer held by either set of extremists. Rather, it’s the answer held by both.
The simple fact is that fiction requires both plot and character to achieve its full
potential. One could argue convincingly from both sides of the subject: 1) that
stories originated from plot (first this happens, which then causes this to
happen); or 2) that stories originated from character (this person did this and
that person did that). But why bother with such an argument, when, by
focusing on both facets, we can produce a story that contains both a riveting
plot and a fascinating character?

It’s unfortunate that many within the literary world have decided that stories
must be either character stories or plot stories, when, in fact, the two are
symbionts. It’s very true that storytelling originally focused more on plot and
has evolved over the years to put more emphasis on character. In his book
Characters & Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card elucidates:

Even though a story…. and you can’t disregard it. and both the novelty and the extraordinary brilliance of some of the writers who worked with this story structure have led many critics and teachers to believe that only this kind of story can be “good. writing forums. but rather about finding the harmony between them. put at least a slight emphasis on one or the other. In real life stories don’t tie up neatly. and agent interviews. Fiction is about balance—in so many ways—and certainly nowhere more so than in the matter of plot vs. One of the things they broke was plot.”… Character stories have been so dominant that they have forced storytellers in the other traditions to pay more attention to characterization. And there is nothing wrong with this—no matter where that emphasis lands. character controversy. as pointed out in Lev Grossman’s article “Good Novels Don’t Have to Be Hard”: Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place—the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists. character. query letters. we’re often asked to pigeonhole our stories on one side or the other of the plot vs. Who were. stories were a distortion of real life. I grant you. Character stories really came into their own at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s true that most writers. is not about a transformation of character… the readers still expect to get to know the characters. This is the fashion of our time. In writer’s groups. But this is no reason to focus on one to the exclusion of the other. But neither can we disregard plot. Events don’t line up in a tidy sequence and mean the same things to everybody they happen to…. the single greatest crop of writers the novel has ever seen…. and what exactly they did with the novel…. Good writing should not be about pitting plot against character. But let’s look back for a second at where the Modernists came from. and even when they don’t expect it. they are willing to allow the author to devote a certain amount of attention to the character without regarding it as a digression. depending on the individual manner in which they approach inspiration and organization. . To the Modernists.

Visit her blogs Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture to read her take on the writing .blogspot.blogspot.authorculture.wordplay-kmweiland.About the Author: K. www. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word.M. she enjoys sharing both through her novels and short stories. Weiland grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western www.kmweiland. where she still www.kmweiland.

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