Which is more important, character or plot?

Some people think character is most important, others think plot is the most important, but you really can’t separate the two. Plot is what happens to a character, what a character does, or both. You cannot have a character without a plot. To show who or what a character is, you need to show the character acting, and that is plot. You also cannot have a plot without a character. If an unknown planet is coming toward earth, that might be newsworthy, but it’s not a story until you have characters reacting to the coming planet. How is it going to change their lives? What do they do to prepare for the coming cataclysm? What happens to them as a consequence of their actions? That’s what makes a story.

Here are some responses from others authors about whether character or plot is more important. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop and One Hot January

For me, the most essential quality of a good story is characters with whom I can connect. Finding a good story to write is easy; but writing about characters the reader cares about is more difficult. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most demented characters ever conceived, yet he was fascinating, a train wreck away from which we want to look but can’t.

From an interview with Joylene Nowell Butler, Author of “Broken but not Dead”

You need good characters your reader can relate to almost immediately. They talk about plot-driven vs. character-driven stories, but honestly you can’t have one without the other. Readers want to live vicariously through your characters, but first they need to trust you, trust that you’ll take them on a journey they’ll connect to with characters they care about. Even if what you’re asking them to believe takes place on a foreign planet with outrageous settings and descriptions, if you do your job correctly, it won’t matter how strange the setting or how weird-looking the residing peoples are, human nature can transcend all that weirdness and endear any reader quickly and for the duration of the story. Think “Dune”, “Harry Potter”, or “Wizard of Oz”.

So, in your opinion, which is more important, character or plot? (You can respond as a reader or a writer.)

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)

10 Responses to “Which is more important, character or plot?”

  1. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    In a general sense, I would not have placed one above the other as they both combine to create ‘Story’; however, in our current climate, it has been revealed that character is reigning as the most significant portion of the equation.

    This is shown by the popularity of certain books, TV and films. The most successful productions present powerful, memorable characters.

    With Character overpowering Plot, I sense it is because people seek identification in today’s struggle for purpose – fictional characters can assist in an individual’s journey for stability in this vein.


  2. Kit MacConnell Says:

    As a writer, I feel like it’s important to interweave the two. Characters are great, but your story won’t be engaging if your plot it lacking. On the other hand, a plot won’t pull a reader in if your characters are flat.

    Though, I can definitely see Stephen Leslie France’s argument above as being entirely valid, especially within the young adult genre.

  3. joylene Says:

    I really said that? Wow, almost sounds like I know what I speak of. LOL. Thanks for reminding me, Pat, just how much I love our craft.

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I love our craft, too joylene. As you say, there has to be that bond created between writer and reader, a trust thing.

    I would only put character above plot because there are popular novels out there that are great on characterization but very weak on plot but still have a big audience. Leslie has a point here.

    I prefer a book that is strong in both characterization and plot.

    • joylene Says:

      You’re right, Rod. I can certainly forgive discrepancies in a novel if the characters are outstanding. But if the plot is wonderful and the characters aren’t, it’s a lot of effort to appreciate what the authors has written.

  5. Zen Says:

    I think both are equally important. You can have a great plot, but if you don’t create characters that people can care about, you won’t find anyone reading it till the end. Similarly, you can have awesome characters, but if your plot is dull and bland and repetitive, then these characters won’t be enough to hold the attention of the readers.

  6. Ms. Nine Says:

    Neither is more important. It’s the author’s message and purpose that turns the wheel. Character, plot, and setting are tools, the medium. Selecting the best tools for the job is what distinguishes an artist from a craftsman.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You right — the author’s message and purpose are the most important. It irks me when people say they only write to entertain. If that’s their only goal, it doesn’t seem important enough. Or maybe that’s just me since I don’t read to be entertained.

  7. lvgaudet Says:

    As important as it is to have a good plot that draws the reader on, a good character can help the reader forget how bad a plot is, while a good plot can’t hide a lame character.

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