Plots, Schemes, and General Nefariousness
It was the butler!
It wasn’t the butler!
You only thought it was the butler!
You only thought it wasn’t the butler, but it is!
How important is plot? Obviously, very, so let me rephrase that: how important is an original plot?
Let’s face it; coming up with an original plot idea these days is virtually impossible. With the abundance of stories out there, almost every plot has been written. When it comes down to it, all plots today are recycled, just with a new “twist” or “spin.”
So what’s a writer to do? All of this just reinforces my conviction that plot is far from being the most important part of the story. It’s still obviously better to have a better plot than a worse one, and the plot can still make or break the story – but that still doesn’t mean it’s the most important element of a story. I’ve always been a firm advocate that characters are the most important element of a story. You can tell the same story a hundred times and love every single time if the characters are good enough. For me, characters are what make or break a book. If I like and connect with the characters enough, the story will suck me in and make the experience magical. If I dislike the characters enough, I might not even finish the book.
Of course, there’s another way to get around the “plot problem.” Simply put, some writers don’t write for the sake of the story. (“Story” here means the cumulative total of plot, characters, world, etc. in a novel.) Some write to convey a message. For example, dystopian novels. I’m thinking of books like The Giver, by Lois Lowry, 1984, by George Orwell, and A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m also thinking about movies like Gattaca. I’m not saying these are bad stories, but I know that while I came away thinking them interesting and enjoying how thought-provoking they were, I didn’t really like them as stories.
Other authors carry their stories in other ways too – science fiction and fantasy especially sometimes get away with mediocre plots and characters by creating a world so incredible that you become absorbed into it that way. (See James Cameron’s Avatar for a great example. I love it, but let’s face it – it’s just Disney’s Pocahontas all over again.) And I’m not saying that any story that doesn’t focus on its characters as the most important element is miserable – far from it – but I would argue that all the best books have the best characters.
So what say you, my readers? How important is plot to you? Would you rather read a twisty mystery novel with a great plot but horrible characters, or would you rather read a book with an unoriginal plot but characters you love?