Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plot or People?

Hi everybody. Welcome to December. More so now than any other time of the year, there seems like there just isn't enough time in the day. Working, traveling, shopping, visiting family, not to mention the usual sleeping and other things that go on during a normal day. It's hard to believe people who don't write full-time can manage to work on their manuscripts. Still, keeping at work is important, especially when things get busy, as that's when it's easiest to be thrown off track.

As of December 1st, I am officially a published author, as my short story "The Initiation of a Wolf" is available in print in the magazine Down in the Dirt. You can order your own copy as well as read the story online here. If anybody likes, I'm more than happy to sign copies for people.

My first novel is on the editor's desk, although she won't be able to get to it until close to the end of the month. I couldn't wait though, and have already started on the next work. It's really a different feeling working on what I hope will be my second novel as opposed to what was my first one. Whereas my first attempt at a novel was continuously written with an eye on the word count and the uncertainty of whether or not I could actually write a story that long; my second one feels much more relaxed and there really isn't a worry of whether or not I can do it. It's just a matter of sitting down and doing it.

There's a lot of different ways of writing stories. Most pieces of fiction are driven by either the plot, or by the characters the story is about. I personally prefer reading and writing pieces that are character driven, as generally speaking, the characters are more fleshed out and easier to care about and understand. I won't say plot driven stories don't have good, whole characters, a lot of them do, but the important things in a plot-driven story are the events and the connection of one event to the next. So a lot of weaker plot-driven books and stories actually sacrifice characterization, making the people in the story jump through the hoops like trained monkeys, whether it really makes sense for the character or not.

The popular slasher flicks in the 1980's like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series are good examples of plot-driven stories. It's easy to tell, whenever you get up and start screaming at the tv "DON'T GO IN THERE!!" Whenever a character does something that doesn't make sense or that they should know better than to do. For instance, the character could turn around, walk out of the house, over to the neighbors and call 9-1-1, but instead, after searching the entire house for the killer, they go into that last room. Because they NEED to see the monster, or the killer, because the revelation of what they're facing is the key to proceeding to the next event in the story. Sherlock Holmes is also a good example of a plot-driven story. In many ways, the character of Sherlock Holmes himself is secondary to his duty to help the reader connect the pieces of the mystery that's being solved.

Character driven stories are also easy to spot, as many of the more popular ones become whole series following the exploits of a single character and his sidekicks. The Dresden Files are a good example, along with the Harry Potter series. Stephen King writes some of the best character-driven works, even though the people that populate his novels very rarely appear outside of the novel they first appear in. Character driven works are also usually a bit slower paced, as they have to take the time to properly introduce the characters, their emotional and mental states, and other things that explain why they make the decisions they make throughout the story. In a character driven piece, not only do we have to care about the people in the book's world, we have to understand them as well.

Speaking from a writer's perspective. Plot-driven stories can be easier to write. They can be a simple progression from point A to point B to point C, with the bare minimum of characterization. Sometimes less characterization is even required for a plot-driven piece, as it can quickly become possible to create a character that in no way should hop through the hoops like the writer wants them to. If that happens, you can easily break the suspension of disbelief that stories require to work properly and that can be the death knell for an otherwise good novel. Character-based stories on the other hand are generally harder to deal with, as once your characters a good and fleshed out they can take on a life of their own and surprise even the writer with how they react to different scenarios and events. Imagine the frustration as a writer if your character actually DOES turn around, walk out of the house and calls 9-1-1 from the neighbor instead of going into the last room of the house where the killer is patiently waiting. Imagine if that's what you need to have happen to continue the story, but there's no way to get the character to go in with the way you've described him up to that point.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these generalities. Stories based on plot can easily have characters carefully crafted to be deep while still providing the story everything it needs. Likewise character-based works can have events made to lead the characters from one to the next, without actually forcing the people to jump through the hoop. Lots of writers have different styles along the whole spectrum of how stories are based and the best of them can write stories that are almost the perfect blend of plot and character based works, so despite the generalities I've made, they are by no means solid facts or set in stone lines. To each writer, their own styles.

That's it for this week. As always, I welcome people to leave comments on their own opinions of the subject. So until next time, don't let the season bear down on you and keep you from your work. Thanks for reading.

~ Shaun

1 comment:

  1. Very true in everything you said. You are a fabulous write and Im proud to say Ive read all of your work so far. I so look forward to what comes next for you. I think you better hang on, its going to be an exciting ride!! I see great things in your future my friend. Kelley