Friday, August 20, 2010

Plot vs. Character

I know this is a subject that's been thrown around a lot in the blogging world, but I guess I've decided to throw my two cents in.

More and more lately I've noticed that there seems to be two types of trends in the books I read. This seems particularly true for young adult lit, but I'm sure goes for lots of different types of books as well. And the trend I've noticed is mainly this: when it comes to focusing on a particular aspect, books tend to focus on plot or characters.

Now this isn't to say you can't have a plot book with great characters. That's very possible. But character books (i.e. books that focus on the growth and development of their characters rather than specific events/conflicts) often don't have very strong plots.

Or at least in my opinion, because I've decided I'm a plot-driven reader. When I look back on something I've read and try to remember whether it was a like or a dislike, the thing I think about most is the plot. A book can have great characters, writing, etc. but I always think about the plot first. Likewise I tend to find character centered books very boring because I feel like they can be very episodic and as a result the book feels disjointed to me.

So how does this affect me as a reviewer, as well as a reader? One thing I see thrown around in reviews a lot, especially in the blogosphere, is comments about characters not being real, or relationships between characters not having any depth. Or complaints about the type of writing/dialogue featured in the book. Often these kind of statements lead to lower ratings for a book in that reviewer's opinion. But I find that for me personally if the book has a great plot, I can suspend disbelief in the reality of the characters (and their relationships) or overlook mediocre writing enough to thoroughly enjoy the book anyway. So the book would still get a high rating from me, even if there were flaws in other aspects of the book.

Of course, this doesn't apply across the board. There are some books with excellent plots and horrific characters that I didn't end up liking, just as there have been a few character driven books that I have liked as well. But it's an interesting subject to think about. So which do you prefer, plot or character?

And now that's enough rambling for me...


Anonymous said...

I prefer characters for sure. I find that like you said, it is possible to have a plot heavy book with fantastic characters but for the most part, I don't see that very often. I find that the writer will always have one outweighing the other. And for me, that's okay because I tend to read plot heavy novels for plot alone.

Although I do prefer character novels I love a good mystery or suspense or paranormal book that keeps me on the edge of my seat. I'm a reader who loves all genres, categories etc but if I had to chose, I would read contemporary novels for the rest of my existence no problem. ;)

Cecelia said...

Alyssa, can you give us some concrete examples, i.e. book titles?

Alyssa F said...

Well, the ones that stick out in my mind at the moment are two books that I just finished: Jekel and Hyde by Beth Fantaskey and Illyria Elizabeth Hand. I loved Jekel and Hyde despite a lot of the reviews I've seen and I think it was because the plot was a strong one. Illyria on the other hand was very character driven, and I struggled to get through the 135 pages. And at the end I really wished I hadn't spent the time on it at all.

I'll have to see if I can think up more examples off the top of my head. said...

It seems to me that it can't be much of a plot without good characters who learn from their mistakes and grow in wisdom. While I agree that I too become bored with storylines that seem to plod along, it seems that a plot is limited to the characters that enact it. Thus there would be a hierarchy in which well developed characters are needed first to develop the plot for us :>)