Plot vs Character War Ignites *again*

Fantasy writer Kate Mosse has written a defence on the importance of plotting for The Guardian here. Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about and why writers and those who instruct creative writing are so anti-plot. Plot drives story. Plot is story otherwise you just have “a day in the life” without direction.

telegraph.co.uk

As a rule I find character-driven-with-no-plot works of literature pretentious and most importantly – dispassionate – with the writer looking to win awards and seem intelligent rather than wishing to give people pleasure through their art. On the flip side, a story that is solely about the plot comes across as cheap and nasty and gives the impression of being knocked up in six weeks without edit, full of clichés and characters that are merely vessels for transporting dialogue.

Most of all I don’t like the implication that emphasis on plot means that character and dialogue are sacrificed. Some of the best books I’ve read accomplish all three and those are the works that stay with me the longest. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for example has so many layers, such a wonderful plot and depth to the characters. It is one of those novels that requires a re-read every couple of years so that it is never out of your mind.

Most bizarrely is that Stephen King has such a harsh criticism of plot. Aren’t his works almost completely about story? There is rarely a great amount of character development or profound dialogue in his work. He himself has written an example of good plotting and strong characters working together: The Stand. Mother Abigail aside (whom Spike Lee might refer to as a “Magic Negro)”, Randall Flagg is one of the most menacing villains in modern fiction. It is easy to see why some people might side with him. Many of the heroes are well-developed, flawed yet good people; in some cases the villains are sympathetic and sometimes they are good people.

Thoughts anyone?

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4 thoughts on “Plot vs Character War Ignites *again*

  1. From someone who is still learning and not intending to be pretentious, I enjoy doing short stories. Most of them have no plot, but I am learning about dialogue, flow, grammar and all sorts of things. Bigger things may come later, or they may not – but this is how some of us without money for classes and schooling have to do it. I’m trying to learn about plot too, I agree it’s necessary!

    1. mgm75

      To learn the art of course it is important to practice exercises that focus on those elements individually until you develop your own style. However, I’m talking about novels that are written specifically to win literary awards. Perhaps I’m being cynical but there almost seems to be a deliberate clinical construction completely devoid of passion. Its as though they want to remove the word “creative” from the term “creative writing.”

      The most recent I read was Wolf Hall. It was well-written and interesting but it was no page turner and it was quite dispassionate and dry and written in the present tense that I found irritating. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2009.

  2. You know, it may be how one appreciates their reading.

    I was once in a book club that had folks who mostly preferred the Wolf Hall-type of books – literary, and if it had a plot, it better be buried. There were a few of us who liked “stories” (we didn’t know the difference then), and soon started to introduce books that had a plot. The other guys/gals hated them.

    I prefer something with a plot, so that’s what I write. Each to their own. 🙂

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