Thursday, May 15, 2008

The importance of character versus plot

I've written a lot of plot-driven stories for various media - script, novels, audio dramas, graphic novels, etc. For the longest time that was where I most easily found work, pounding out page-turning pulp fiction, where speed and excitement trumped heartfelt, emotion-led character pieces. [As one editor memorably put it, I don't have much poetry in my soul.] Lyrical prose and moments built around feelings don't naturally occur in my writing, so I make myself write them.

For example, I'm working on pitches for several different projects at present. Had a lovely discussion with my script editor yesterday about one of them, identifying what was working and what wasn't. I'd gone for a shocking opening, before backtracking to show the events that led up to the climax. But doing that meant I focused more on the plot mechanics of setting up the payoff, instead of writing about the impact of the story's revelations upon its core characters.

Getting your plot right is important, make no mistake about that. But it's the character moments, the human touches that connect with your audience. A beautiful constructed plot machine is just that: mechanical. Alas, that default position has become a habit, something I need to break to write better. Everybody has their own natural tendencies. Many people are shy introverted, not wishing to draw attention. But they can train themselves to overcome that.

It's often said the most important thing for a writer to find is their voice, the unique take on the world that distinguishes their work from every other wordsmith. No two writers share the same background and life experiences [with the possible exception of identical twins], so every writer should naturally tell different stories. The hard part is finding your voice, embracing it, nurturing it - and making the most of it as a storytelling.

I'm fond of tragic, thwarted love stories. I like things to end badly, any victories to be pyrrhic. I'm not afraid of a little magic realism to express ideas or feelings, maybe because I find that easier than having characters talk about their emotions. As a consequence, some of my best writing has a Gothic fairytale quality, as if I expect Tim Burton to be directing the results. Repression will be rife, good people will suffer. Coo, it's a laugh riot in my head sometimes.

UPDATE: Having written the above entry, I go surfing some blogs and discover the whole Character vs Plot debate being argued at Write Here, Write Now. Go check it out.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Thanks for the shout out Big D - great minds evidently.

But WTF??? You have a script editor that is NOT ME?????

You're dead to me now.