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maestrowork
09-12-2007, 06:05 PM
We hear this time to time: story is everything; story trumps everything else.

While I think there's truth in it -- if the story doesn't interest me or the plot doesn't string me along, I probably wouldn't finish reading the book -- I think there's more to it.

For me, the story is only half-done if I don't care about the characters, if they're just cardboard cutouts, replaceable parts. Don't get me wrong; I'd probably still enjoy the story but it wouldn't be memorable. As exciting as Jurassic Park was, it was memorable because I came to care about Grant, Malcolm, Hammond, et el., and they do interesting things.

Also, what makes a book memorable to me are usually specific scenes -- scenes so breathtaking that they lodged in my brain. Often than not when I mention a book I liked, I can recall the general synopsis/outline of the story (sometimes not even that) but I can always remember specific scenes, and more often than not, they're tied to how I felt about the characters in those scenes. Beginnings and endings are specific "scenes" that many people do remember, and they sometimes either make or break a book.

In the best books, everything works together and the story is the sum of all parts. But looking back on all the books I've read and enjoyed and remembered, I'd single out "great characters doing interesting things" as what really makes a book special to me.

Any thoughts?

Celia Cyanide
09-12-2007, 06:12 PM
One reason why story probably trumps everything else is that story is mainly what makes people buy the book. The writing and the characters may be excellent, but that isn't something you know until after you've read it. The story is what intrigues people enough to want to pick it up. I think the story is a small part of the whole, as far as what makes the book work, and what makes people want to read the next one. But if someone reads a summary of a novel, and it sounds stupid, they are more likely to move onto another novel. They probably won't read it, hoping that at least the the writing style and characters might be good.

Azraelsbane
09-12-2007, 06:14 PM
In my opinion, characters make the story, but then again, I write very character driven stuff. :)

Susan Gable
09-12-2007, 06:17 PM
Great question, Ray. I asked this question ("What makes a story stick with a reader?") when I started formulating my workshop Story Superglue: Make It Stick with Readers.

I came up with two specific things that make the story stick:

Character(s) (As you mention -- but as you also say, they sorta need to DO something. The most interesting character on the planet will bore me to death if she/he just sits around, contemplating her/his navel.)

Emotion -- the emotional reaction the story provokes in the reader. Even if it's a negative emotion.

And yes, I think those are basic components of what we call STORY. It's not the POV that does it. It's not the exact word choices the writer slaved so hard over (though those ARE important components -- you can use both of those tools to create character and emotion.)

The thing is, you can craft the most perfect piece of writing that's FLAT. No one is interested in a flat story. (Or a flat soda, for that matter. <G>)

For me, it's charater & emotion that makes a story memorable.

Susan G.

Twizzle
09-12-2007, 06:17 PM
I'm confoozed.

If you're saying story is the sum of all parts--meaning parts like character, scene, prose--then for you sometimes the parts are enough? Not the sum? Sometimes just a good part trumps all?

Sounds dirty. I like that.

but serious. I'm confused. Character alone can't trump all.

DeleyanLee
09-12-2007, 06:31 PM
In the best books, everything works together and the story is the sum of all parts. But looking back on all the books I've read and enjoyed and remembered, I'd single out "great characters doing interesting things" as what really makes a book special to me.

I totally agree--Story is the sum of all the parts. However I think that most readers remember Character better than other elements of Story because people relate to people best of all. We might gaze in awe at a stunning landscape, but that's stagnant. Events (plot) happens to people, so it's passive. Theme is an undertone that many don't even realize is there. People are active. People are dramatic. People are memorable.

Makes total sense to me why it's the characters readers remember long after the book is back on the shelf. And the majority, if not all of the scenes (events) that stand out in the mind are those that best dramatized the characters.

However you take wonderful Characters in a cardboard World with uninspired Events or a preachy Theme and you've got a bad Story people won't get into as well. There can be a great Idea hidden under lackidasical writing or muddled by lack of focus. One great ingredient in a stew won't save it, after all.

OTOH, you can take mediocre ingredients that, by themselves, aren't that exciting, and mix them together and come up with a fantastic Story that people can't put down and want more and more of.

The problem is, you never can tell what really makes a "great Story." At least, I can't. If you know how--please share! I'd love to know.

Jamesaritchie
09-12-2007, 06:32 PM
Story and characters are everything. I'd even turn it around, Characters and story are everything. It's the writing that gets in the way. New writers often pay so much attention to technique, to the actual writing, that they forget it's character and story that readers are after.

You see this with all the complaints about how poorly bestselling writers write, which is nonsense. Get the characters are story right, and the writign itself can be mediocre, but the best writing in the world can't make up for bad characters and bad story.

And I think good characters almost always outweigh story. Everyone knows who Sherlock Holmes is, but not many can tell you much about the stories.

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 06:33 PM
I think the story is what gets me through to the end. But when I really look into why I like the book, it's not so much about the actual story (most of the time, I don't even remember what the exact story is after a few years). It's the characters and, like Susan said, the emotions I experienced. Meaning, I can go back and use the same characters and the same emotions but completely rewrite the story, and it would still work for me. So the original story doesn't "trump" anything. It's just a sum.

Sassee
09-12-2007, 06:36 PM
We hear this time to time: story is everything; story trumps everything else.

While I think there's truth in it -- if the story doesn't interest me or the plot doesn't string me along, I probably wouldn't finish reading the book -- I think there's more to it.

For me, the story is only half-done if I don't care about the characters, if they're just cardboard cutouts, replaceable parts. Don't get me wrong; I'd probably still enjoy the story but it wouldn't be memorable. As exciting as Jurassic Park was, it was memorable because I came to care about Grant, Malcolm, Hammond, et el., and they do interesting things.

Also, what makes a book memorable to me are usually specific scenes -- scenes so breathtaking that they lodged in my brain. Often than not when I mention a book I liked, I can recall the general synopsis/outline of the story (sometimes not even that) but I can always remember specific scenes, and more often than not, they're tied to how I felt about the characters in those scenes. Beginnings and endings are specific "scenes" that many people do remember, and they sometimes either make or break a book.

In the best books, everything works together and the story is the sum of all parts. But looking back on all the books I've read and enjoyed and remembered, I'd single out "great characters doing interesting things" as what really makes a book special to me.

Any thoughts?


I know some people don't like Janet Evanovich, but seriously, character is first and foremost in my mind when I think of her. Okay yeah, she writes mysteries, her character Stephanie catches bad guys, generally the story is pretty good, but what I remember is the cast. I can only give you the plotline for one of her 13 Stephanie Plum novels, but I can name and describe every single major character in them. I've gotten to the point where I don't even care what the story is anymore... I just wait for the chance to hang out with Steph, Lula, Ranger (HAWT!), Joe, Grandma Mazur, et al.

But then, on the flip side, there are books where I really loved the story. The characters were just "meh" but the story was so good I go back and read it from time to time. (And get jealous wondering why I can't write a story like that... /sigh)

So, to answer your question -

No, story is not always "everything." It really depends on the individual book. Although, having that excellent story generally makes your book an easier sell.

Stew21
09-12-2007, 06:38 PM
The story has to be compelling and the parts of the story have to support it. The story is the sum of the parts, I agree there.

The elements have to be strong, even in a poorly written (the technical aspects of writing) manuscript. elements being: character, events, setting, themes - which comprise the story as a whole.

Yes, story trumps all, but it has to be supported by the parts it possesses.

robeiae
09-12-2007, 07:18 PM
Wait a minute...I'm supposed to have a STORY in here? Crap.

*tosses wip in file 13*


Seriously, though: I think there are different kinds of books, as Sassee said. There are some books that I really liked because of the story, alone. Clive Cussler books come to mind. Other books I liked because of how I was drawn into the world of the book, never mind the actual story. A really good biography has that trait, imo, along with some historical fiction. And still, other books were memorable because of the characters and their development, like The Great Gatsby. Then there are those books where the writing was just so...something that I couldn't stop reading--like Dan Brown books (:ROFL:). Okay, not Brown. But maybe Maugham. Or Hemingway.

And I guess this last group transcends the others in some ways, but the others are not somehow worthless--not by a long shot.

Shane Fitzsimmons
09-12-2007, 07:31 PM
I think I'd agree with some of what's being said here. Story is probably more important to sell a novel than to make a novel interesting. Good characters are hard to describe to an audience, but they wind up being what makes lasting impressions on them.

For me it's pretty much all characters. If you have enough really interesting characters you can throw something relatively small and arguably even something stupid at them and just watch how they each deal with it, and that'll make for a good read.

Which doesn't mean that the story doesn't matter. It really does. But I don't think it's the trump card that is the most important thing in a novel.

Though I really suppose that depends on the novel.

Roger J Carlson
09-12-2007, 07:37 PM
I think we're confusing plot and story. To my mind, Plot + Characters = Story. In that sense, story IS everything.

josephwise
09-12-2007, 07:39 PM
I see character as an element of story, without which story wouldn't exist. It would just be plot.

To whittle it down even further, I see character as a subset of "setting."

Story is: an inevitable course of events within a given setting. People are a part of that setting, but so is everything else, and it all has to behave in a human way.

If you ask me, the thing that makes a book memorable is the degree to which the story is compelling, and without a human setting it can't be compelling. Even aliens and robots should be "human."

I think one other element contributes to make a story compelling: the story's perspective on humanity must not be overly familiar to the reader.

robeiae
09-12-2007, 07:43 PM
I think we're confusing plot and story. To my mind, Plot + Characters = Story. In that sense, story IS everything.
Even under that rubric, I would disagree somewhat, re my point on getting drawn into the world of the novel and my point on writing that just moves you. Now, you could say that it is the way the story is told that is responsible for these things, so story still would be everything. But even then, there are books wherein it is all about the plot. And these books are not bad, by definition, are they?

KTC
09-12-2007, 07:45 PM
I do agree, in theory, that story is everything. I do. But to me, characters are a close 2nd. When characters are done REALLY well, they even surpass story. When I'm reading that kind of book, I am at my most happiest.

JimmyB27
09-12-2007, 07:52 PM
Story = characters + plot

KTC
09-12-2007, 07:52 PM
Yes...I realize that.

P.H.Delarran
09-12-2007, 07:57 PM
I will read to the end a poorly written book with weak characters if the story is compelling enough. Same with watching a movie. I've endured a few really bad movies just to see how they end-because the story was so interesting. I will still recall the book/movie as a horrible book/movie, if I recall it at all, but that story will remain in my head.


But this works in reverse as well-I read a book a few years ago (wracking my brain trying to remember the title/author), with very well done characters-it was written in sort of a memoir style. I eagerly followed this menopausal woman through her family events -expecting something big to happen at any minute-nothing happened, ever! I was so angry when I finished, I threw the book across the room, then picked it up and threw it again. It was such an incredible waste of time. If there was some subtle point, some statement the author wanted to make, it was too subtle for this reader, yet I was immensely interested in finding it.
I agree that the more memorable books have
great characters doing interesting things, as so many have stated in this thread.

sanssouci
09-12-2007, 07:58 PM
I think good characters are born out their actions within a compelling story.

Some stories lie beneath the surface and don't particularly stand out to the reader but that doesn't mean that the story isn't there, or that it's less significant than any other element of the novel.

And elements of the story, like character, only have meaning because they are connected to a story. We tend to remember people, places and things because they're easy to remember, they're more tangible than an underlying storyline.

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 08:02 PM
Story = characters + plot

Yes, but that's just a placeholder. It doesn't mean it's everything. You can have a story in which the characters are GREAT but there is no plot -- you still have a story, but does it make it good? You can have a GREAT plot but the character sucks, so does it make the story good? You can have poor plot and poor characters, and you STILL have a story -- probably a bad one. So, since story is constant, my thought is that it really depends on what's under the cover.

Many people have great story idea, even a great plot, but the execution just isn't there. I blame most of the problem on characters.

JimmyB27
09-12-2007, 08:09 PM
Yes, but that's just a placeholder. It doesn't mean it's everything. You can have a story in which the characters are GREAT but there is no plot -- you still have a story, but does it make it good? You can have a GREAT plot but the character sucks, so does it make the story good? You can have poor plot and poor characters, and you STILL have a story -- probably a bad one. So, since story is constant, my thought is that it really depends on what's under the cover.

Many people have great story idea, even a great plot, but the execution just isn't there. I blame most of the problem on characters.
What I mean is that story literally is everything. It's the sum that is greater than all of its parts.
And this from the OP - "I'd single out "great characters doing interesting things" as what really makes a book special to me." is as good a definition of story as any, imho.

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 08:13 PM
The question of "Is story everything?" has more to do with the quality of the book then a literal meaning. We already know story = sum of all parts. (p.s. I am the OP :P )

But I would mull over whether "great characters doing interesting things" really is the definition of story. :)

KTC
09-12-2007, 08:15 PM
but i get lost in characters, ray. good examples of powerful character writers, for me, are Salinger and Chabon. The characters propel me in their works. Though, you could argue that that's because the stories are solid. But, for me...the characters are usually upfront stars for me with these examples.

Jamesaritchie
09-12-2007, 08:20 PM
I think we're confusing plot and story. To my mind, Plot + Characters = Story. In that sense, story IS everything.

For me, it's the opposite. Characters plus story=plot. Plot is a byproduct of good characters and good story.

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 08:22 PM
But to play devil's advocate here... what makes a good character? Some argues that great characters DO THINGS -- they don't just sit around pulling lint off their navels. And by doing interesting things and interacting with others, you have plot. I think that's when it gets muddled.

Or, are great characters simply great because of who they are and not necessarily what they do? That itself is rather a philosophical question in general -- WHO we are vs. WHAT we do as people.

KTC
09-12-2007, 08:25 PM
Yes. I think some are great just because. Look at Gatsby. What he wasn't was all over that masterpiece...but what he was shone through at every crack. That was a 'who they are' book.

JimmyB27
09-12-2007, 08:26 PM
I think the point I'm trying to make is that all of those things that make up the great big 'Story' are interconnected. If you make your characters more interesting, that's going to have an impact on the plot. If you add a few twists to the plot, that will change the characters. So you can't necessarily point to any one of those things in a vacuum and say 'this is what needs to change'.
Or, to put it another way, 'story is everything'. :tongue

Soccer Mom
09-12-2007, 08:30 PM
Which came first, story or character? It's hard to separate them. Take Harry Potter out of his story and his just another kids with angst. The story is what makes him special. It's what makes him interesting.

And the story wouldn't be anything with Harry and Ron and Hermione. It just wouldn't.

With that said, I can read a good adventure tale without loving the characters. If the story is good enough, it can carry me along with some stock players. But if I HATE the characters, then the story is a complete no go. I'll shut the book.

But the perfect storm is the marriage of story and character so that they are a part of one another.

KTC
09-12-2007, 08:37 PM
let's not nickel and dime this.

I know a character cannot be a character on his/herself. But sometimes they are front stage...out in front of the story being all showy and lookatmeish.

Soccer Mom
09-12-2007, 08:41 PM
But I don't think I would enjoy a book about someone if interesting things didn't happen. The character has to DO something. I might enjoy a short story that's nothing more than an interesting character sketch, but not a novel.

I'm gonna rack my brain for favorite books and see if there are some that fall under that criteria.

Azraelsbane
09-12-2007, 09:00 PM
But to play devil's advocate here... what makes a good character? Some argues that great characters DO THINGS -- they don't just sit around pulling lint off their navels. And by doing interesting things and interacting with others, you have plot. I think that's when it gets muddled.

Or, are great characters simply great because of who they are and not necessarily what they do? That itself is rather a philosophical question in general -- WHO we are vs. WHAT we do as people.

I think great characters don't have to necessarily be doing great things. Emotion, reactions to what's going on around them, strong dialogue... That makes a character in my opinion.

And they have to stick. You can't have character B's speech pattern/attitude jump into character A. That's what throws me out of a character. I've read so many books that start off with strong characters, and then it's like the author forgot who was who. Annoying and unrealistic. That's not to say they can't make an impression on one another (in fact, if they're in close contact they should be doing just that), but there's a difference between being impressionable and becoming a mimicry.

KTC
09-12-2007, 09:12 PM
But I don't think I would enjoy a book about someone if interesting things didn't happen. The character has to DO something. I might enjoy a short story that's nothing more than an interesting character sketch, but not a novel.

I'm gonna rack my brain for favorite books and see if there are some that fall under that criteria.


I agree the characters have to do something. I know the two are impossibly intertwined. I'm just suggesting that sometimes one has the limelight and other times the other does.

Sometimes I read a story and the story itself propels my reading. At other times, I get wrapped up in the characters...who, of course are carrying the story along for the ride. I'm just saying that I love character driven stories, I guess. Not arguing with anyone.

Soccer Mom
09-12-2007, 09:15 PM
I agree the characters have to do something. I know the two are impossibly intertwined. I'm just suggesting that sometimes one has the limelight and other times the other does.

Sometimes I read a story and the story itself propels my reading. At other times, I get wrapped up in the characters...who, of course are carrying the story along for the ride. I'm just saying that I love character driven stories, I guess. Not arguing with anyone.


But...but I want to argue!! I want a fight! I....


nevermind.


I do love a good character. I do read the Stephanie Plum books and I agree that I just want to hang with the characters. The don't do "big" things, but they are so funny that I just want to live in their world for a bit. But they have to keep doing goofy silly things. Therein lies their charm.

Ava Jarvis
09-12-2007, 09:16 PM
Here is my very primitive take.

The basic plot, from the beginning of time with Beowulf and Gilgamesh, to Shakespeare and Silence of the Lambs and Pride and Prejudice, is:

1. Get your main character up a tree.
2. Throw rocks at him/her.
3. Get your main character down the tree.

Plot is:

- how you get your character up a tree. This is where plot begins: the character is forced into a situation from which he/she cannot escape through walking away, hitting the bar, ordering for pizza, etc.

- what rocks are thrown at the tree. This can be anything from hating Mr. Darcy to Grendel snacking on your men in the dining hall.

- how you get your character down the tree. Resolution of the rocks tends to do it, along with providing a rope or some other way to get down.

Character is:

- what personality in your character made it so that they would get up into that tree and can't get down? This affects how you get them up the tree; if you have a bear running around, only characters that cannot kill a bear, and are not suicidal, and do not have something to protect from the bear, will get up the tree. If you take away all the food on the island (if this is an island), then you can only get them up the coconut tree if they won't eat lizards and bugs or don't know how to fish (and, I suppose, don't hate coconuts more than life). Who they are also dictates how you trap them in the tree.

- who they are also dictates what kind of rocks can be thrown. Are they really good at dodging rocks? Find some honking big ones to pitch. Are they allergic to certain kinds of rocks? Throw those. Do they get really bothered by lots of little rocks constantly pelting them and wearing down their spirit? You know what to do. Try to get them out of that tree before they are ready to deal with whatever lies below (or deal with not having whatever it is in the tree that allows them to survive).

- who they are dictates how they can get out of the tree (safely). Someone who is always going to be scared of bears is never going to get down as long as the bear remains unresolved. Maybe they grow and become knowledgeable enough (say that there's a wood elf palace up that tree where they can train) to kill the bear. Maybe they are resourceful enough to build an effective gun out of coconuts and the little rocks you keep throwing up to create an especially deadly pellet gun to kill the bear. Maybe they become suicidal (a la Hamlet) and just throw themselves down to the bear.

If you want to implement deux ex machina, the bear suddenly dies of a heart attack.

Because character dictates plot---or at least that's how I see it---to me you have character first, then you derive plot from your characters.

MidnightMuse
09-12-2007, 09:19 PM
For some reason To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn came into my mind reading this thread. Those are to of my oldes favorites, and when I think back on them I'm thinking only of how amazing and interesting the characters were - I have to stop and think to remember what the plot actually was.

I write and prefer to read very strong character-driven stories. Yes, they have to DO something in order for there to be a story, or a reason to even read the book. But in all my favorites, when I think back on them it's the characters I remember first.

Just my half-cent :)

KTC
09-12-2007, 09:20 PM
For some reason To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn came into my mind reading this thread. Those are to of my oldes favorites, and when I think back on them I'm thinking only of how amazing and interesting the characters were - I have to stop and think to remember what the plot actually was.

I write and prefer to read very strong character-driven stories. Yes, they have to DO something in order for there to be a story, or a reason to even read the book. But in all my favorites, when I think back on them it's the characters I remember first.

Just my half-cent :)

Very good points...very good examples!

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 10:38 PM
But I don't think I would enjoy a book about someone if interesting things didn't happen. The character has to DO something. I might enjoy a short story that's nothing more than an interesting character sketch, but not a novel.

True, but do these interesting "stuff" has to be part of a grander plot/story? Must there be a story arc, a beginning/middle/and a grand finale to tie up all loose ends? I think that's worth examining. Take a memoir or biography for example... there's a story somewhere, but maybe not in a traditional sense. We're really more interested in the character -- who he/she is and what he/she does in his life, and these can be episodic and a string of vignettes but they're still extremely fascinating to read if the character is fascinating. But there may not be a plot in the traditional sense (we could, of course, argue that the person's life is itself a "life story" -- but in that sense, the "story" still takes second stage to the character).

I've read memoirs with no overarching story, just episodes and snippets, and was completely mesmerized by them. And in those cases, I really do think it's the character(s) that are the most important.

Karen Junker
09-12-2007, 10:55 PM
For me, it's the opposite. Characters plus story=plot. Plot is a byproduct of good characters and good story.

Now I'm really confused.

maestrowork
09-12-2007, 11:06 PM
Now I'm really confused.

:D

I think what James meant (correct me if I'm wrong, JAR) was that if you take great characters and put them in the context of a great story, the plot will happen because the characters will do what they do to move the story along.

Take Jurassic Park for instance. Give us some good characters (Grant, Hammond, Malcolm, Ellie, etc.) and the story (man vs. nature, trapped in a park, man vs. man -- bad guy sabotages things, man saves man...) Given the premise, the story themes, and a set of great characters and let them loose... the plot will just take care of itself.

Take a character-driven story like mine... what is the story about? Love, betrayal, redemption, coming-of-age, etc. And now throw in a few good characters with conflicting motivations and interests... the plot will emerge by themselves because these characters will start making things happen...

At least that's how I see it.

Stew21
09-12-2007, 11:13 PM
Catcher in the Rye is very much a story where the character is so fascinating that if I don't sit and think about it deliberately, I remember so little of what he did while I can remember so much detail of Holden Caulfield.

(just to provide another example to Midnight Muse's - and Kevin's).

III
09-12-2007, 11:22 PM
I think Voice is every bit as important as Story or Character or Plot (however you personally define those). Voice drives and infuses every part of the book, and is the essence of why we like a particular writer. I'd throw out Stephen King as an example. Some of his books had weak plots or forgettable characters, but his Voice, his storytelling is just so engaging.

But I guess that's what makes a masterpiece - those rare times when Voice, Story, Character, and Plot all come together and make an explosion in your brain and in your heart. Isn't that what we're all trying to acheive as aspiring writers?

janetbellinger
09-12-2007, 11:25 PM
Well, I agree you also have to care about the characters, but if the story line is poor, the author is unlikely to succeed in engaging my sympathy for the characters.

Soccer Mom
09-12-2007, 11:28 PM
True, but do these interesting "stuff" has to be part of a grander plot/story? Must there be a story arc, a beginning/middle/and a grand finale to tie up all loose ends? I think that's worth examining. Take a memoir or biography for example... there's a story somewhere, but maybe not in a traditional sense. We're really more interested in the character -- who he/she is and what he/she does in his life, and these can be episodic and a string of vignettes but they're still extremely fascinating to read if the character is fascinating. But there may not be a plot in the traditional sense (we could, of course, argue that the person's life is itself a "life story" -- but in that sense, the "story" still takes second stage to the character).

I've read memoirs with no overarching story, just episodes and snippets, and was completely mesmerized by them. And in those cases, I really do think it's the character(s) that are the most important.

That's an interesting take. I wasn't thinking of memoirs. I'm not really big on reading memoirs. Maybe I do require more story to hold my attention. I think the plot of Mockingbird is very dramatic and it really held my attention. "Stand up. Your Daddy is passing." That gives me shivers. It's the context of the characters actions that makes it so fascinating to me.

Huck is more of a character study. I think the picaresque story lends itself to exploring character in a different way.

What an interesting thread. This one has made me think more than any in a long time. :pats Ray on back: Good question!

Priene
09-12-2007, 11:54 PM
Voice and style for me every time.

Kurt Vonnegut's characters were unengaging. Cardboard, even. His plots were basic. Sometimes, it's difficult to remember which book of his you're actually reading.

But what a voice. Uncle Kurt's humanity and pessimism slugging it out right between your ears.

As for style: Rushdie and Eco and Grass craft sentences that would set off harmonics if you could only tap them with a fingernail.


On the other hand, Dan Brown writes good plots. Or so I've been told...

FennelGiraffe
09-13-2007, 12:03 AM
Story without Character is pretty awful, but Character without Story isn't anything at all.

DeleyanLee
09-13-2007, 12:18 AM
On the other hand, Dan Brown writes good plots. Or so I've been told...

Dan Brown nailed the Thriller genre plot tropes hard and fast. It was a great read--if you liked that kind of book. If you don't, then there's nothing that would save it for you. LOL!

DamaNegra
09-13-2007, 04:24 AM
For me, characters must be interesting. But they also need to be doing something. It doesn't matter what it is. When they tell a joke or say something funny, they're doing something. Even when they're just thinkng of something, that's a kind of action in itself. Sometimes it is those little actions, what they say and what they think, rather than what they do, that makes us care about the characters.

Biographies are a whole new animal. We read biographies because we already care about the characters. We already know who they are. When we read a biography, we don't read it to know who they are, but rather what happened to them and why they are the way they are.

It really boils down to what type of story it is. In sagas, for example, in the later books we already know the characters, and we buy the books to be with the characters and know what else happened to them. We want the story. But for a book with totally unknown characters, we want the characters, because they're the ones creating the story for us.

Eh... I'm not sure I made sense.

Sage
09-13-2007, 04:36 AM
Dan Brown nailed the Thriller genre plot tropes hard and fast. It was a great read--if you liked that kind of book. If you don't, then there's nothing that would save it for you. LOL!
But you couldn't read too many of his even if you do like that kind of book 'cuz by the third, you have it all figured out in the second chapter (& the action hasn't even started yet).

DeleyanLee
09-13-2007, 04:56 AM
But you couldn't read too many of his even if you do like that kind of book 'cuz by the third, you have it all figured out in the second chapter (& the action hasn't even started yet).

Actually, I know people who have read all his books and say he's just getting better with each one.

maestrowork
09-13-2007, 05:07 AM
I enjoyed Angels & Demons. Preposterous? Yes, but a fun read. I think it's better than DVC. Do I remember anything from it? Not really... maybe a few scenes, and the general story, but nothing really jumps out at me. It's good popcorn entertainment. So in that case, I think story is everything because the characters just don't really grab me -- I didn't care one way or another if Robert Langdon lived or died, but since I knew it was a thriller and he was the protagonist, he wouldn't die. Still, I knew going in that it would be the plot that drove the story, and that was perfectly fine with me. I had a good time. But if I want something more substantial, there's other books to read.

I guess expectations is another thing. My expectations with reading a thriller vs. a lit, for example, are different. When I read Angels & Demons, I expected a roller-coaster ride and I got that. It was a thriller and I was thrilled. Job done. When I was reading Mystery of Pittsburgh, I expected languid, gorgeous, lingering prose and quirky characters, and I got them. I really didn't care if the plot amounted to anything -- I had a good time going along with the characters and marveling at Chabon's gift with words. Characters like Cleveland and Arthur stuck with me. It was also a great read.

Sage
09-13-2007, 05:11 AM
Actually, I know people who have read all his books and say he's just getting better with each one.
Cool. I stopped after the third, so it is very possible he got over the predictable phase. I really enjoyed Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, but by Deception Point I saw the plot twists coming a mile away.

DVC was fun 'cuz I like solving puzzles :D

DamaNegra
09-13-2007, 05:15 AM
Yeah, all of DB's books I've read start with a murder, then someone dreaming who is woken up because someone wants to tell him about some mysterious death and faxes them pictures. No thanks.

III
09-13-2007, 05:56 PM
Cool. I stopped after the third, so it is very possible he got over the predictable phase. I really enjoyed Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, but by Deception Point I saw the plot twists coming a mile away.

DVC was fun 'cuz I like solving puzzles :D

That's how I felt about John Grisham. Same story, same characters, same story arc, different book cover. Dean Koontz too, for that matter. I enjoy both of their works, but after a few books the novelty wears off.

Monkey
09-14-2007, 05:53 AM
For me, "story" is sort of a combination of the characters, the setting, and the plot, so it is *literally* just about everything.

Sometimes, though, the writing *itself* plays a part. I have enjoyed novels because I liked the author's voice or the style of writing, despite the fact that the actual story was flawed.

For instance, I love Douglas Adams's "Hitchiker's Guide" series. There are points, though, where the plot is, well, dumb. Not only that, but I really hate Zaphod, so episodes like "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe" would be intolerable were it not for the voice of Douglas Adams.

In general, I think story trumps all. In specific, there are some people who are just so engaging that I want to listen to them no matter what they're actually saying.

lfraser
09-15-2007, 10:46 AM
Great books have a good story, strong themes and memorable characters.

But for me, right now, with my writing? I've realized that story is everything. I've been concentrating so much on character that the story has bogged down completely and I've become lost. I can't write great prose. I don't know how to write clever dialogue. I haven't uncovered all the themes in my story, and when I do I'm pretty sure they'll be trite and overworked. But the story, the one I conceived of two years ago and abandoned and then picked up again because I was still intrigued, that's what will keep me writing past the frustration.

So yeah, for me as a novice writer, story has to be all.

Xx|e|ph|e|me|r|al|xX
09-15-2007, 01:29 PM
When talking about story, not in the literal, sum-of-its-parts definition, but as a component like characters and themes, etc, I tend to care most about the characters. I can stand a horrid story if I love the characters, usually. And if I hate the characters, I tend to put the story down. And in a way, the characters make the story and vice-versa (plus, I'm a picky reader, so I read what I like which is mostly character-driven anyway).

But thinking about an entire book...what I really can't stand is bad writing. The character and story may be great, but if the writing is bad--if it can't portray it (the story, that is), can't pace it, have bad grammar, too flowery, too minimal--then I just can't read it. Some things are poorly written but readable. It may read like a grocery list of plot-points and character drama, but if I like what its giving me I can embellish it myself, come up with character backgrounds, emotional and psychological states, sub-plots... But if it's not even that good, I can't stand it.

So, throwing another story component into the pot--the writing itself. The words are how the writer communicates the story, after all. Don't want it lost in translation!

J.Ziekemijjer
09-15-2007, 01:44 PM
I think quality characters (The Catcher in the Rye comes to mind), or quality characters + quality plot (Sharpe's Triumph) = a good story, but I can't even think of one story with a good storyline but no good characters.

Mr. Fix
09-15-2007, 02:30 PM
Although I find the plot+character thing mostly true I think I've got another take on this discussion. I love Louis Lamour books because I know he will take me to great places. The ability to transport me to another world/time has driven much of my reading. The way Mr. Lamour can discribe the 'feeling' of being in the primative environment is just so real to me that I could smell the pine trees in the forest from his writings.

So, is 'location' an important part of the story too?

But I tend to agree - the stronger the 'character' the more memorable the 'story,' like Billy Pilgrim, IMHO.

maestrowork
09-15-2007, 02:42 PM
The setting obviously is part of what makes a book enjoyable, fascinating even. I think the question is, all things considered, what would make the book "good but not great" or "it could have been a great story if..."?

Or is story more like the "premise"? The back cover blurb that either makes it "interesting" or "dull"? "Vampires from outer space destroying Earth" sounds like an interesting story but "three men contemplate their lives in small town Idaho" may not sound much fun -- that sort of thing?

Mr. Fix
09-15-2007, 02:53 PM
Ah yes, the "Great Novel." I never would really be interseted in; 'Wealthy young man moves to new town and doesn't fit in with the locals' bit. But I think 'The Great Gatsby' is a great novel. So to this I would say, it really depends on the writer to forge the 'Great Novel.' And since no-one can predict what the next 'Great Novel' would be, we should all just keep hacking away at our keyboard until we hammer one out, eh?

Cav Guy
09-15-2007, 08:22 PM
Well....I think we've hammered out that a great deal of "story is everything" comes down to personal taste...:)

No...really. Everyone reads for different things and gets drawn in by different elements. I'm one of the character folks who will toss aside a book for poor characters before I will for poor story. I also read a fair amount of historical fiction, so I already know what's going to happen in a sense. It's how the characters get to that point that fascinates me. Most of my favorite authors have a strong character-building ability, and that keeps me going back to them. Leonard Scott's plots can be predictable, but he has a knack for characterization that I really enjoy (his Korean bartender in "The Iron Men" would be immediately familiar to any military member), and Del Vecchio has the same knack.

For some it's going to be character+plot=story, and for others it will be plot+character=story (or something similar). It's what we value as readers that really outlines that equation. I don't think there's a "right" or "wrong" answer to it. And I would place "location" in with character in a sense. If you've ever read Ian Fleming's stuff, he paints Jamaica in vivid colors that many writers reserve for characters. It's character with a small 'c', but I think it still factors in.

Koobie
09-16-2007, 12:31 AM
Bookmarked this thread (I'm terrible at coming up with interesting plots). :)

Summerwriter
09-18-2007, 01:15 AM
Bookmarked this thread (I'm terrible at coming up with interesting plots). :)

Hi!
I could say I am not so good with plots either.