Friday, March 25, 2005

It's all about characters, not plot

It seems strange, but I'm convinced that one could write an award winning book, devoid of any real plot. Say about a guy who's sole mission in life is to sharpen every pencil he comes in contact with. That's not much of a plot, but I've realized that a good story isn't usually about plot, but instead about characters. If the pencil guy was the most interesting character ever written, then plot is secondary. Now it might be possible to carry a story on plot alone, even if the characters were bland and uninteresting, but people will complain that it's not as good as NY Times bestseller, "The Sharpener".

I've found that, as an amateur writer, in default mode, I'm a plotter. I started the book three times, each time focusing on the details of the plot and the devices used by the characters, etcetera. Each time I thought the damn thing sucked, and trashed it. Finally, I wrote about the characters. I tried to think about what character A would do in situation B, rather than how to advance the plot towards the ending I had in mind. It's a more natural way of developing a story that mirrors how plot develops in real life, not as a means to an end, but rather as the result of an action where the end is determinate based on the action.

So color me unsurprised when I realized that my two page query letter was all about the plot, and barely about the characters. I've rewritten it with a focus on the characters and the result is three quarters of a page (about 400 words). Not only that, but it's ten times as interesting in the rough draft alone. I think I'm getting somewhere.

Now enough of the amateur stuff, check out what a real writer can do:

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