Please welcome G. J. Owens who is here to talk more about the plot vs. characters in fiction.
The question of the relative importance of engrossing plot versus engaging and lifelike characters is an age-old one, and not entirely dissimilar to the “skillful writing versus great story” debate. Of course, neither option pitted on opposing sides of these examples can stand wholly alone without some supportive aspect of the other. For the latter, I think it a much more rewarding pleasure to read the deft writer, whose every sentence is a joy even if the plot is lacking, than to muddle through a work of poor structure and style in order to “see what happens next” in a masterfully conceived story. For the former, and to the question at hand, I believe memorable fiction rides on the backs of its characters.
It is fully realized characters with whom the reader can establish an empathic connection that will drive a reader page after page. With the only possible exceptions being some sorts of experimental fiction, a great story can only go so far to entice the audience to make the trip if the characters are hollow and uninteresting. Only in the more streamlined fiction of cinema do characters more easily take a backseat to the overall story, but books require a greater investment, and thus greater commitment, from the audience.
Of course, the ideal scenario is for character and plot to bolster one another in equal amounts to the betterment of each. However, if one of the two must be chosen, I would certainly gravitate toward characters that feel as though they live and breathe in my mind–even if they are despicable and irredeemable–over a rich plot that is well thought out and executed. That too is a benefit of great characters; readers can come to comprehend mindsets and deeds we would not otherwise imagine and use them as a mirror for our own, which is the epitome of the human condition.
As a writer, inevitably I would just so happen to have a clever and handy analogy. I like to think of the balance of plot to character as a rat maze. We as observers can view the scientific construction of the empty maze and find appreciation for the obstacles, the twists and turns throughout, but it is a very sterile process. It is absorbed, analyzed, and then set aside. On the other hand, once that confused yet determined rodent is dropped inside, we become invested on a personal level. We root, laugh, jeer, and empathize with the living creature as it struggles to find its way, imagining how we ourselves would react if placed in the same situation. Our investment is transformed from academic to emotional, and I believe this is the most important aspect of literature. It must move the reader on a basic level, and I believe it is through the connection with the characters that these feelings are best achieved.
If you would like to add your own opinion or have questions for G. J. Owens, he’d love to hear them!
G. J. Owens has been writing in various mediums his entire life. Having dabbled in film and music, he always returns to his first love of telling stories. Check out his website for more! G. J. Owens is the author of the horror novel, The White Door.
Be sure to return here next week to read what author Craig Hart has to say on this topic!