When I was a teenager, we used to play the game, “Would you rather?” Would you rather eat fried spiders or grasshoppers? Would you rather be blind or deaf? Would you rather jump out of a plane or off a mountain? Most of us agreed that the best answer to most of the questions was: neither. But that’s not how the game worked; We had to choose.
When asked, “What’s more important—rich characters or a tight plot?”—my answer was swift and sure: both. I adore mystery novels, and the authors I love the most give the reader a healthy dose of both plot and character: Louise Penny, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Martha Grimes. Over the course of multiple books, the main characters become more like distant relations than fictional characters and their adventurous exploits become fantastic family stories.
But let’s say you must choose between the two. How do you decide? Ask yourself:
+What do the readers of my genre expect? Take a look at the reviews for books in your genre on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other book review sites. What do the readers adore and despise in these books? Are they more upset when an author cheats on character or plot?
+What am I naturally good at? Some of us can easily build believable characters, others plot like master architects, and a few juggle both well. Know your strengths. Choose a genre that plays to your strengths. And then rock it!
+How can I make up for my weaknesses? Plot writers often make character work by writing series novels. That way they can create and deepen central characters over many books and have time to do what they love, build plot. Character writers sometimes borrow plots from the classics. And why not? They’ve lasted for centuries because they’re good.
+What type of marriage between plot and character works for this book? Every book project is different. We don’t have to choose to be “plot writers” or “character writers.” We can make unique choices for each book.
In the end, I’m always going to answer the question of plot vs. character with BOTH. Choosing between them is like breaking up the birds and the bees or Ken and Barbie.
Bio. Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for at risk tweens and teens in Milwaukee. She’s currently wrestling with some very opinionated characters in a novel for kids. For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com
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Next week John Avery will be presenting his thoughts on this discussion so be sure to return here!