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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Character Vs. Plot: A Riddle

by Cynthia Light Brown

Here’s a riddle. Where does this come from (and NO USING GOOGLE to find out)?

“A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.”

If you guess it, leave a comment that gives a hint.

The dichotomy between character and plot is a false one. To speak of whether one is more than the other is to miss the point that you can’t really have one without also fully developing the other. Indeed, why would you want to?

The best way for us to know and understand a character is through what she does. Yes, her internal thoughts can be revealing. But what she does (which includes what she says, by the way) is even more important. “Telling” has its place in good writing, but it’s rarely a good method of revealing character in a novel.

But it doesn’t just work one way. To understand a plot – why things are happening as they do, we must understand character. Certainly it’s true that we only care about things that happen if we care about the characters, but it’s even more than that. The plot only makes sense in light of understanding the characters that are driving the plot. And if your characters aren’t driving the plot…they need to. Even in a murder mystery, where the precipitating event may not be related to your main character, from then on in, your characters—especially your main character—need to drive what happens.

And then we come full circle. The things that happen in your story (your plot) also will change your characters. If they’re not changing, we as a reader aren’t interested.

The quote in the riddle is referring in particular to someone shrouded in mystery. Which is what your characters are to your reader: shrouded in mystery. You as the writer must reveal your characters, and your best method of doing that is use action. As we know and understand your characters, their actions will be understandable (even if they sometimes surprising).

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