creative writing

What is More Important: Character or Plot?

A few months ago on the website for Alliance of Independent Authors, I read Rachel McCollin’s article Plot vs Character: Which Comes First?

She stated that a story needs both plot and character to succeed. I agree that stories need these equally. I’ve read many authors who focused on plot or character, but not both. To me, their stories seemed to lack a connection. They were easy to read and easy to forget.

A plot where the characters have no influence in the story becomes a series of chase and fight scenes until no one is left to fight or chase. Likewise, characters without a plot wander around facing continuous attacks on their emotions without resolution.

There are plenty of readers who want to read about action or feelings, but not both. However, the most memorable stories I’ve read had a story where plot and character worked closely together.

Ms. McCollin explained that many writers do not start off with a plot or characters. They start with a theme. Next comes the characters to stretch out the theme that develops into a plot. This is one path a writer can take.

Sometimes a writer may start off with characters with the plot arriving to give them purpose. If a plot develops first, the action brings the characters to life. In either case, a writer usually arrives at a point, a triple fork in the road, where they can focus on plot, character, or both.

It is here that a writer should decide who their readers will be. A story that focuses on plot or character can find readers. However, when plot and character are treated equally in a story the result can become a strong, memorable one that will find even more readers.

How to Get Rid of Darlings

In 1914, Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first person to write, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

It is hard for writers to get rid of something they wrote and love. It’s hard for me. The words stand out as if singing, “Don’t cut me! I can be loved.” To erase them is a death sentence to something beautifully written.

Many writers cannot pull out the eraser or hit the delete key. They end up with prose that is hard to read and understand. I know because I used to find it hard to do the cutting and my writing suffered.

Nowadays when editing and I hesitate on a word or series of words, I know there is something wrong. But, I like those words, I tell myself. Yet, when I focus on what they mean to the story I find that the words cause the reader, like myself, to stop and ask, “What is this?” The words throw the reader off and break the momentum or tempo of the story.

I learned to get rid of my pet words by saving them in a separate file for “future use.” Even though I have rarely used them in a future story, it makes me feel better when I take them out of a story for safekeeping. My cute, favorite words still exist somewhere.

Overtime, I do this saving less and less. I now delete the cute words I know do not belong and move on with the story. Although, from time to time I still find myself saving some favorite words in a file. It is always possible I could use them in some future story.

Writing Scenes in a Novel

Most novels are written scene by scene.

I define a scene as a period of dialogue, a movement of characters from one place or time to another, or the start and end of some action. A scene is anything that enters through a door, experiences what is beyond the door, and exits through the same door or another door.

A scene can last a few paragraphs or several pages. I think scenes work best when they are kept to around two thousand words. They can include dialogue and action with movement from place or time, yet only one of these items should be the focus over a few pages.

As an example, this blog is a scene focused on the topic of writing scenes. There’s one character (me), the blog is 300 words, and the dialogue is with the reader concerning this one topic.

While writing this blog post, I became distracted onto other topics that I moved to another blog post for another time. This is what a writer needs to do when writing a scene. Keep focused on a single topic and discard everything else. It could be used for the next scene.

Scenes need to be linked together. The links are breaks for the reader to rest from the scene’s intense moments. They are non-scenes and can include reflections from the characters or a description of the environment or both. They act like bridges so the reader can take a breath before continuing to the next scene. They are critical and carry, like a bridge, the reader to the next scene.

Our society of readers takes things in short bursts of information. There was a time when scenes were fewer and longer. Nowadays, scenes work better for the reader when they are short and to the point.

From Fear to Publication

This blog entry is not a motivational speech. It is a layer of my opinions and wanderings of random thoughts about one aspect of publishing a book — the ego and the fear.

I believe there are many well written books that could be classics and loved by many. However, the writer’s only copy is sitting on some electronic device or printed and gathering dust somewhere. It is almost like the best writers do not want to be published. It is almost like the best writers are the ones who fear publication the most.

Of course, there are many books that should remain unpublished. I wrote two of them. There are also a lot of books that should not have been published. I have read some of them. In the end, I think the difference between publishing and not seems to be the ego.

Those with the biggest ego appear to find it easy to publish. I don’t mean “ego” in the negative sense. These authors want the world to know they wrote something and have no fear of the public reading what they wrote. Is there a link between ego and fear?

Over the years, I have met some very good writers who never published. They saw publishing as a barrier they could not overcome. Also, almost none of them had strong egos. Some even told me they feared where the publication route would take them.

I have no answer for how people without strong egos can overcome their fear and get published. (Except overcome their fear and publish, but that’s a motivational speech.) I have three books sitting alone on my computer and printed out that are ready to be self-published. They’ve been sitting there for too long.