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You are here: Home > Forum > A Place of Safety > Literary Merit > Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?
Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76727] Mon, 13 April 2020 13:57 Go to next message
timmy   United Kingdom

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Location: UK, in Devon
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This raised its head in another thread where I use my own Chris and Nigel as an example of a work that has no real plot save the scrapes the characters create for themselves, but has reasonably decent characterisation in that people find they identify with the characters. There is no real start and it meanders broadly towards the place it dries up like a river entering a dried up lake.

Two things happened to dry it up. My attempt to introduce a plot bored the characters rigid, and the bored characters became unwritable because they were being asked to do that which they had no desire to do.

Other stories are well plotted. Sometimes the characters fail to be three dimensional because they are subservient to the plot; at other times both characters and plot thrive.

I choose not to speak of other authors' work by name here, but they are welcome to mention their own and speak to its strengths or weaknesses. I have none of my own where both plot and characters take joint centre stage and do it well, though I do have some attempts.



Author of Queer Me! Halfway Between Flying and Crying - the true story of life for a gay boy in the Swinging Sixties in a British all male Public School
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76730 is a reply to message #76727] Tue, 14 April 2020 03:31 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Teddy is currently offline  Teddy   United States

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My first reaction was that sometimes, at least with the gay themed love story genre, an overly complicated or tension filled plot can totally destroy the love story, or at least overwhelm it. For example, I've got a story I started quite some time back where the plot is much too involved. The result is the characters withered up and died on the vine in the middle of Chapter 5. I find it very difficult to reverse out of where the plot has gone without destroying the tale. It looked good in outline form, but when fleshed out it became a mess. If I ever figure out what to do with it y'all will be the first to know! LOL

It's a bit trite to say but the best authors know how to balance plot and characters. I thought your Chris and Nigel tale was pretty damn well done, just the characters exploring their relationship. I enjoyed them immensely as probably the first serial story I ever read of the boy loves boy genre. Plot is important though I think otherwise how does an author bring a story to a close? I can think of at least two stories over the years from various sites that have gone on for hundreds of chapters. I quit reading long before capter 100, and likely before chapter 50. 



“There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.” - Terry Pratchett
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76732 is a reply to message #76727] Tue, 14 April 2020 14:57 Go to previous messageGo to next message
cm is currently offline  cm   United Kingdom

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Registered: May 2017
Messages: 47



I guess it partly depends on what you call a 'plot' (the classical definition is that it has five stages: exposition/growing action/climax/descending action/resolution - although I am wary of these one-size-fits all definitions).

Many (perhaps most) of the stories here are about the emergence/growth of relationships; the development of the relationship IS the story. This is in contrast with stories that have an entirely separate storyline within which relationships happen; these seem to be rarer.

It is certainly true of my own stories.

'Call me Eild ' is an exception for me; it has a free-standing plot within which relationships happen - but the relationships are, by and large, not integral to the development of the storyline. If you were to take the relationships out of the story, there would still be a story left behind. By contrast (for example), 'Sunnybanks' is principally about a relationship; take the relationship out, and there is no residual story. Does that mean that 'Sunnybanks' doesn't have a plot? I don't know. It is certainly important to me that the relationship goes full circle, and I like my stories to have a beginning, a middle and an end - but that may be 'structure' rather than 'plot'. Or it may all be semantics.

In the end, surely what matters is whether or not the reader is engaged and cares what happens to the central characters? I know that's what I want - and when a story gives me that, then I've had an enjoyable read; and if I haven't, then no matter how much 'plot' the author may or may not have included, then there is little pleasure to be had from the story.



Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76733 is a reply to message #76732] Wed, 15 April 2020 07:34 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Talo Segura is currently offline  Talo Segura   France

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I think CM has captured the point. A lot of stories are character driven, they have no plot other than dictated by the events in the characters lives (a sort of plot - if you like, because certain events happen and get resolved). A plot based story is about the mystery or enigma that is the driving force which at the end gets resolved (or not!). The characters are the potaganists seeking the answers, the characterisation, the lives of the people involved are secondary. Interesting and adding colour and value, but not the main theme. There is satisfaction from both story types and identification with the characters in both. However, the latter type of story, with a main theme as plot, has the added satisfaction of a mystery resolved. It is also more difficult to write, needs construction and planning out. Even so, you might still write a good story, character based, which develops a plot, that gets resolved, without any or very little planning. To do that also takes skill.

In summary, you can plan out a plot and populate it with interesting characters or you can create interesting characters and let them develop a plot. As they say - the choice is yours. Still, though, creating the plot first is more difficult, imo.

Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76734 is a reply to message #76733] Wed, 15 April 2020 12:04 Go to previous messageGo to next message
The Composer is currently offline  The Composer   United Kingdom

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It depends.If you're writing a fairly short story (perhaps 5000 words), plot is not that important. Character is.If you are writing a story of novel length (50,000+ words), then you need to have both plot and character.I think too many writers in this genre start off with a scenario which looks fine, but they haven't thought it through, and several chapters later, the story grinds to a halt. You can't write a book of that length without having an idea in your mind as to how the story arc will develop which includes a realistic ending.
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76735 is a reply to message #76734] Wed, 15 April 2020 16:18 Go to previous messageGo to next message
joecasey is currently offline  joecasey   United States

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Composer, I think you make a very good distinction between short stories and long form fiction, and the role of plot in each of them. I've submitted only short stories and novella-length work to this site, but I've written two novels - neither of which will see the light of day - and found it a much different and more exacting process: difficult, but with its own rewards. And, Teddy, yes to your comment about over-long works; I've seen stories here and there on other sites whose word counts run up into the several hundreds of thousands. I suppose one treats stories like that as on-going serial novel kinds of things, and reads them (or not) accordingly.
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76742 is a reply to message #76735] Fri, 17 April 2020 03:09 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Merkin is currently offline  Merkin   United States

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Messages: 8



Two observations:

It is worth noting that characterization can, in and of itself, be a plot.  Consider a well-written biography or memoir, driven for the most part by chronological development of its central character.

Much of the gay fiction we encounter, especially when it focuses on coming of age or on adolescent development, tends to follow along the familiar trope of a Hero's Journey, which often provides enough of a plotting device to form a basis for stories built around the exploration of character.

As a writer, I'd rather have a well-formed Plan than a finalized Plot.  The Plan will get me to the end; a Plot is always willing to be tinkered.

Merkin
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76752 is a reply to message #76742] Mon, 20 April 2020 16:36 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Bensiamin is currently offline  Bensiamin   United States

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For what it's worth, I concur with everything said so far, noting that the comments from c_m and Merkin most resonate with me...meaning the way my mind works.

I did miserably in high school, college and grad school when it came to laying out a complete and detailed polt outline. I certainly have a story arc or plan in mind, with start and finish and certain stops along the way, but love the discovery process when the writing is underway of just where the story can go as the writing proceeds.

So I suppose that adds another major element to the question about plot vs characters, namely the nature of the author!



Bensiamin
Re: Does there have to be a plot or are characters sufficient?  [message #76770 is a reply to message #76752] Thu, 23 April 2020 23:27 Go to previous message
Bensiamin is currently offline  Bensiamin   United States

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To continue this very interesting subject, I came upon today a quite good article at Writer Mag about identifying the "heart" of a story.

It presents views of different successful authors (novels and short stories) regarding what is the heart, essence, spine, theme, etc. of a story.

It also gets into the plot vs. character question...which this forum theme is about. It's worth a read! 

There are two parts...be sure to click the red "2" button at the bottom of the first article to move on.

Link to Writer Mag article

[Updated on: Thu, 23 April 2020 23:28]




Bensiamin
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