"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, April 06, 2009

Plot vs. Character: Where do you fall?

Did anyone else go see Monsters vs. Aliens this weekend (or last for that matter)?
I laughed out loud at this movie. For me, all it takes are some good one-liners, a bunch of action, and nerd humor.
So yes, I recommend it.


It came to my attention on something I recently read that I cared way more about the characters than the actual plot. Sure, it was a series book (not the first), and it's a great thing that I really wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters. But how does the problem get solved of the (action) plot?
I've been in the reverse situation many times, where the plot was forefront in the book and the characters came second. And in these cases, of the reviews I've seen, the main comment has always been to not read the book if characters are your main concern. And as writers we take this to mean we need to beef up and develop our characters that much more.

But how about this reverse case. Where plot takes a backseat in an action novel. I've been thinking some about this and realize in a case like this when the relationships between the characters matter so much, that puts more pressure on the plot. It needs to measure up in kind.

So right back at you, you writers who do such a great job on your characters. We plot people aren't the only ones who need to work :)

Anyway, all that rambling above comes down to my question:
Do you think you focus more on the plot or characters when you're writing?
Because it seems like for the most part, writers tend to skew one way or the other.


Writing update:
I'm re-reading a WIP before I start revising it. It's been five months since I've read it, so I'm fresh and ready to go. Yay for time between revisions. There is no better cure for objectivity than as large an amount of time as you can possibly stand. And at this point, five months is about as much as I can stand.
BTW, I LOVE this stage of revisions! When I have bunches of ideas of what to incorporate!

Reading Update:
I read Running With the Demon by Terry Brooks recently. It's been years since I read any Terry Brooks, and quite a while since I read adult fantasy.
Thoughts in a nutshell:
I love the complications of the plot.
I love that this is a prequel to all the Shannara books
There are lots and lots and lots of extra words, description, and the sort that would have a really hard time making it into a kid's book (unless of course you're Terry Brooks in which case you can write whatever you want).
I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Audio reading update:
Listening to Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I cringed when the zebra was being eaten.

And a huge thanks to Becky Levine for saying some super nice things about me in this blog post. Thanks, Becky (who's great book The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide is now available for pre-order on Amazon)!
Go order it now!!!!!

OK, hope everyone has a great week! I'll post on my visit to the Juvenile Center later this week!


lotusgirl said...

I loved Life of Pi. Lots of cringing, but such a great read.

Angela said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I hope too!

For me, I tend to be plot focus over character focused, but since realizing that over a year ago, I've tried to create a better balance in my writing. Readers love an amazing, twisty plot, but they connect to strong characters. If your characters are just place holders in a really awesome adventure, ultimately the readers won't become invested in the book.

Angela said...

LOL, and by your, I mean 'in general', not you specifically! You're writing is just plain awesome!

Kelly said...

I worry about plot first then the main character, my weakness is the other characters I think.
I definitely want to take my kids to see the Aliens movie, it sounds like they'll love it!

Miriam S.Forster said...

Character, definitely. (I love people, people fascinate me.) HOWEVER, oddly enough I have a harder time writing character than plot.

But I am getting better.

Funny tidbit, I actually read the Word and the Void trilogy before I read Shannara. Loved it, loved it, loved it!

PJ Hoover said...

Does that mean there is more cringing to come, Lois? Oy. I'll have to toughen myself up.

You're sweet, Angela :) And ditto for me. I'm way more plot/action than character and totally need to work on that (not that I don't need to work on plot also). Heck, I need to work on everything.

I totally hear you, Kelly! It's about making those other characters just as good, right.

Character is hard, Miriam. I hear you! And good! I'm excited to read the next WATV book (but need to finish another book first).

Thanks for visiting!

Christine M said...

As for plot/character. Generally speaking I'm stronger on the character and have to figure out a plot to go with it.

And I'll be very interested to know what your reaction to the ending of Life of Pi is.

C.R. Evers said...

I sooo need to see that movie!

I probably lean toward "plot" character seems to take more of an effort for me.


PJ Hoover said...

And now I'm so excited to know the ending of Life of Pi, Chris!!!! You have my intrigued.

I'm with you, Christy. Plot all the way.

beth said...

I'm typically way more into plot than characters. In my last WIP, the plot determined the characters. For my current WIP, though, I'm more focused on characters--and although I read for plot and usually think of plot first, I think my writing is better when I focus on characters.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, PJ! :)

I don't think I could LISTEN to Life of PI--it was emotional enough reading it. LOVED IT.

Character or Plot. I seem to "know" my characters really fast, although that doesn't mean I don't have lots of work to get to REALLY know how they'll behave, react, etc. And then comes the plot for me--not easily. I'm writing up what was supposed to be a short summary for my critique partners, and I just don't do short, I guess--because I'm having to put in all the details I think are important, and I'm not sure I'm getting that much plot in at all. Sigh...more work to do!

Lady Glamis said...

I focus more on character than plot, I think. It's a hard balance sometimes, when you write suspense because the plot is so driven by what happens instead of who making it all happen, if that makes sense.

PJ Hoover said...

What you said, Beth :)

Sometimes plot appears to me, and sometimes not, Becky. But I did love your recent post on it!

Totally makes sense, Michelle! But character driven suspense will really set your work apart!

Keri Mikulski said...

Definitely more character. In fact, I spend the majority of time brainstorming characters.. Then, I start with one scene and just go. Love characters. :)

Vivian said...

I want to see the movie!

Good post, PJ. Plot vs character...Hmmm. The character comes to me first and then I work on plot.

PJ Hoover said...

How fun, Keri! And apparently this works!

Go see the movie, Vivian! And you have characters down great!

Kimberly Derting said...

Because of the thriller side of my books, the plot requires a lot of attention, but I LOVE the characters!

And, yeah, Monsters v. Aliens rocked. I laughed harder than my daughter did!!! We saw the 3-D version, it was amazing!

Robin L said...

I love these kinds of questions!

At the risk of sounding like I'm cheating, I have to say that the situation comes to me first, i.e., what if this sort of person was stuck having to perform this kind of action.

Which I guess means plot and character come to me at the same time, then I have to work like hell on both of them. :-)

I also truly believe that they can't be separated, that plot IS character because if you change a character's actions, you also change the action of the plot. For example, a brave person faced with a specific situation will take drastically different actions than a timid person faced with the same situation, which will ultimately affect the plot.

Jim Danielson said...

The commercial for Monsters vs. Aliens cracks me up with the "He's a hugger" line. I'll wait for the DVD since I'd have to borrow a kid to take otherwise.

PJ Hoover said...

The 3D is so cool, Kimberly! Totally worth the extra couple dollars in my opinion!

Robin, I love how you put this! It's a really unique way to look at the whole plot vs. character thing. Now for me to implement it :)

Jim, shall I ship the kids up there for a long weekend?

Stacy Nyikos said...

I think I'm more about plot, if I had to choose. Then again, I have a few characters I really love, but it's the plot I focus most on laying out and getting to shine.

Tabitha said...

I'm definitely better with plot than with characters. I mean, I know my characters inside and out, but I have a hard time getting that onto the page. Though, over the last year (like Angela) I've gotten better at it and feel like I've found a good balance.

Also, I'm with Christine. I want to know your reaction to the end of Life of Pi. :)

PJ Hoover said...

You are great at plot, Stacy. But you're also great at character. Hard call for you.

Tabitha, I can't wait to read something by you! I bet you're great at both!

Kelly H-Y said...

LOVED Monsters vs. Aliens ... one of Braden's friends had a bday party at the theatre ... we got to watch the movie with the whole place to ourselves! Such a fun morning.

PJ Hoover said...

I bet that b-day party was a blast, Kelly! There was one at our theater, but they only had two rows reserved.

Amy said...

I'm a straight-up plotter. Then I go back and weave in the character growth (which usually entails a massive rewrite of the second half, but still....)

Lenore said...

Life of Pi! My favorite part? The island scenes. Oh and the sloths at the beginning.

TJ Brown said...

I worry about characters most before I start to write and then plot while writing. Then I worry that I'm not developing the characters enough and when I go back over the manuscript. LOL i worry a lot while writing!

D.A. Riser said...

Hi PJ -- I definitely fall into the plot first category. This is helpful in that I don't have trouble finishing out or starting a story. However, it leaves me taking longer than most to sketch out character backgrounds since I'm not as naturally concerned with the people details. It's a necessary evil, though. How about this? Plot is the car and character is its driver.

PJ Hoover said...

Massive rewrites are good, right, Amy :)

I love the sloth part at the beginning. And islands??? Haven't gotten there yet!

Writing is all about worrying, right, Teri. It's such a funny job.

Plot is the car and character is the driver...Nice, Dan!!!

Carrie Harris said...

Great question! I'm a character girl. I always know way more about my characters than the plot when I start writing. And yeah, sometimes I really need to work on that plot to make it satisfying, but the characters come easy.

Nora MacFarlane said...

PJ - I nominated you for an award on my blog!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Nora! I totally appreciate it!

PJ Hoover said...

You are lucky, Carrie! I think character is what many people struggle with.