Today I have sci-fi author T. Allen Diaz with me to discuss his take on the character vs plot argument. Which do you focus on when reading or writing. Or do you require an even balance?
Take it away Thad!
When I was working on Procythian Reign, I would listen to Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica podcasts. I loved to listen to what went on in the writer’s meeting, learning where the staff gleaned their inspiration and how one of my favorite shows came together. One of the tenets that Ronald D. Moore espoused was:
Character makes the story.
He would often comment on how stories were about the people and those people had to be paramount. If you could create interesting characters that the reader/viewer cared about, you would have a successful story. I really took to this concept and accepted his reasoning without a second thought. After all, he was a successful writer of Star Trek fame who’d now helmed the most successful sci-fi franchise of its day.
Battlestar Galactica did have some really cool characters. And, I cared about them all in some way or another. I couldn’t wait from one week to the next to watch the show and see what would happen to them. So, I thought that he must be right. Fiction, good fiction at least, is about character.
Then, I had to sit down and write this guest blog. I wrote and wrote and wrote, but none of it really seemed to resonate. It came across as part history lesson, part commercial for my book. And, while I want you to read my book, this blog post isn’t intended to be a naked advertisement.
So, I started reading other people’s blog posts and I found an interesting debate:
Character vs. plot. Which is better?
Of course, I knew where I stood in this debate:
Fiction, good fiction, at least, is about character. So, what was there to discuss? But an interesting thing happened on the way to this blog: I realized, quite by accident, that things weren’t as they seemed.
Sure, interesting characters are great, and I really have to invest in them to get the full emotional impact from these people’s struggles. I think the truth in that statement is universal. What I no longer believe is that that truth is simple. Yes, I need to care about my characters, and I want them to be marvelously complex and human. They should be flawed and vulnerable, and exposed to whatever threat the story poses. I want to root for them and believe them when the act out on the page.
But, there’s something I don’t want. I don’t want my characters to have a happy, uneventful life. There is no real drama if everything goes smoothly all the time.
And, that’s where our little friend plot comes into play.
Something bad has to happen to our good characters.
In the case of Battlestar Galactica, the event that began this great story was the destruction of our characters’ entire civilization as they knew it. True, we cared about these people because of their quirky flaws and idiosyncrasies we so loved. I especially enjoyed the way they interacted in very human, very imperfect ways while their world crumbled around them. But it was the plot that fueled those interactions.
It is the crucible in which characters are forged and is the “action” of our story.
We care about what happens to our character and that “what happens” is plot. Without it, we’re reading some story about the boring life of some really cool people.
I know that there are authors who manage to write stories centered almost entirely on character. Perhaps it is beyond my talent or is just a difference in style. I would never begrudge anyone for writing or liking such stories anymore than I would someone for liking plot-driven action centered around stilted, superficial characters of no substance.
They just aren’t my style.
I want to invest in fascinating, believable, strong characters who are facing very difficult situations. I want to fret over what might happen to them as the story progresses (plot) because I care about these fascinating people (character).
The truth is: character and plot need each other.
Together they make a literary team that creates a dramatic story. One without the other might be ok, but they should both be present for the story to fill its full potential.
Proceena, corporate capital of the Procyon 2 System, a place where humanity lives a double life: One of opulent wealth, and one of crushing poverty. Now, these worlds will collide, forever changing the lives of those caught between them.
Laura Clabar is the niece of the CEO of the reigning corporate authority. She lives a life of privilege
and comfort. But, after falling for an idealistic, politically active indigo (Procythian working class), she begins to question if there is more to power and status than a life of creature comforts and luxury. Does she have a Noble Obligation to protect those less fortunate? Or, should she just go on living her life of opulence blind to the suffering of others?
Eric Phillips is an officer in the Guild of Proceena Workers, and a fiery, intense radical. He wants change and he wants it now. When a mysterious stranger comes into his life with an intriguing offer, it looks like he just might get it.
But, is there room for both of them in the Procyon System? Can an angry revolutionary work hand-in- hand with a sworn class enemy, or, will Laura soften his iron temperament? And, can they stay one step ahead of her uncle’s relentless henchman, Leo Krisminski, or will they end up as casualties of this would- be revolution?
T. Allen Diaz
T. Allen Diaz is a newcomer to writing. Procythian Reign is his debut novel, and the first book in the Proceena Trilogy. He is a life-long resident of the Tampa Bay Area where he serves as a firefighter. He has a wonderful fiancé, two wonderful daughters and a son who have all been instrumental in supporting this project.
So readers, what are your preferences? Are you all about characters that keep you up at night, who get you thinking through your day? Or would you prefer to be driven hard by a rigorous plot twist? Writers, what is your focus when working on a story — an intricate plot or deep characterisation?
Personally, I feel a kinship to the following quote I nabbed from author S. Andrew Swann:
Plot and character are not opposing poles on some creative spectrum, they are not mutually exclusive, any more than setting and narrative, or dialog and exposition, or any of the other ingredients of a full blown work of fiction. If any one of these ingredients, as written, suck, well the suck will affect the story. This applies to the cardboard action hero as much as the deeply introspective antihero in plotless literary porn.
Not only are plot and character equally important, they’re also interdependent upon one another.