Thursday, December 18, 2008

Character vs. Plot

I was listening to a writing podcast today and heard these guys arguing about what is more important to a story...character or plot. Not going to say which podcast since I am about to rip on them, but this is a debate that seems to come up a lot among very inexperienced writers and frankly, it is a stupid question.

Let me ask another question that has the same syntactic value in order to illustrate why it is a stupid question: which is more important to a coin, heads or tails?

Think about it.

Can you have a coin with just one side? Even if the sides look the same, there are still two of them. There is no dichotomy here, there is only a coin: a single, discrete object.

Stories are the same: a singular, discrete thing whose parts can be labeled, but whose parts have no meaning when separated from the whole.

If a story has a lame character, no one will believe or care what happens to that person. If Joe Papolitsky, my neighborhood State Farm rep were to captain the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, the story would fail. Joe is nice enough, but he’s a terribly boring man and doesn’t get on well with wookies (the believability part).

If a story has an amazing character, but nothing happens, no one will be interested enough to read on. Miss Marple sitting on the beach in Cozumel, eating some nachos, sipping a margarita then flying home with no conflict, crisis or drama is not a story; it’s just the diary of another crotchety retiree and no one cares, not even her four children who read her blog just to be polite.

So, rather than debating stupid questions, create interesting people and place them in interesting situations. If either one is boring or incoherent, go back to the drawing board before you waste time writing a whole story about it.

As for which starts the creative process (plot or character), it does not appear to matter. Of the writers I admire, almost all have stated that they will use either one depending on the story (though some have a preference for one or the other).

It's just a stupid question.

No comments: