Re: RARA-AVIS: Plot vs. Character

Date: 29 Apr 2005

Let me put on my writer's hat for a moment.

I never look at plot vs. character as an either/or proposition, mainly because I don't write that way. So why should I look at what I read that way?

Most crime fiction is interesting because of the characters. Noir grabs its adherents because something about a villainous or a doomed protagonist draws us in, often because of a "There but for the grace of God go I" mentality. Hardboiled heroes are outsiders and get to thumb their nose at the establishment in ways most of us (even those of us whose jobs are depicted in these stories) never get to do. I could go on and on about thrillers, cozies, police procedurals, and so on.

If what we read was completely plot driven, why read so much hardboiled or noir or whatever? With hardboiled, you'd be finished with THE MALTESE FALCON. Noir, go even further back and read about Satan's fall from heaven. But it's not the plots or the archetype, it's the characters. Each character reacts differently to the same situation, and each one is an amalgamation of the writer's experience along with aspects of his/her own personality. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails miserably. You can take Lehane and Parker and hand them the same basic plot. Lehane gives you A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR, and most people think, "Wow. This guy's onto something." But then you take DOUBLE DEUCE. Same story. Unfortunately, it filled with cariactures.* This makes two points. One is that different writers will have different levels of success with a story based on how they draw their characters. The other is that no two writers will write the same story with the same plot.

I don't believe crime fiction, when done even moderately well, is plot driven at all.

Jim Winter

*Subjective opinion. YMMV.

Northcoast Shakedown

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 29 Apr 2005 EDT