I’m going to run with a little blog on the idea of Plot vs. Characters, which is more important to a story.
First both are very important to the story, but which one puts one story in the good pile and one in the great pile!
We get hundreds of submissions on short stories and I have the same argument with the review team as to which stories are good enough to publish in the magazine. That argument is in a 5000 word story can you really create a great character? Shouldn’t you focus on the plot more? I disagree, I feel that you can create a great character with a lot of emotion and meaning, and wrap a plot around them. Most writers problems that I see are that they have a great idea for a book, the plot is solid and the story is thrilling. However, they write the wrong type of character within the story. Let’s put it this way. When you watch a movie, if the leading character is just not the right person for the role, doesn’t it turn you off to the rest of the movie? This is why the top awards are best actor / actress. Execution of the plot is critical to making a story very successful.
Let’s first understand plot. The basis of the story in which the characters will execute. It is not much more than that. What will your characters do? How will they interact with each other and situations? How will they weave their way through the story to reach the ending, or another beginning? These are questions you need to ask yourself when developing a story. This will be the basis of your plot. Some people outline everything, while others don’t. It is very much personal preference in today’s day and age. In my English class a long time ago, you had to bring an outline with your story. I found this very tough, since when you start writing a story, the characters will talk to you and maybe push you in another direction. If you are bound by the plot outlines that you have laid out, you might be missing out on a great story with great characters.
So what is the answer then? Another good question. I think you will hear from both sides on this one with very good arguments. However I feel that only one side makes the better sense. Strong characters with real emotions and believable lives is what needs to be focused on first. Think of what type of story you would like to write and start working on the types of characters that will fit. Do you want romance? Do you want some comedy? Is it based on History or some sort of fact? These questions and many more need to be answered by you before you start creating the world that these characters will be live in. Let your characters talk to you and let their emotions and thoughts come through the pages. If you can get that through to your readers, you will be very successful for many years to come.