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Does anyone NOT write very character driven fiction anymore?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mythopoet, Oct 27, 2017.

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I know there's lots of non-character driven fiction out there. But does anyone actually think it's a good thing to write anymore? It seems not. Everywhere I look when people talk about writing fiction they talk almost exclusively about it from a character driven standpoint. Setting- it's all about your character. Plot- it's all about your character. Every single guide I have seen lately for plotting a story revolves around the main character and what they want.

    Call my old fashioned. I'm sick and tired of hearing about character's desires. Screw their desires. I don't care about their desires. Certainly not toward the beginning of a story, anyway. (Later on I'll consider them.) So it seems to me that figuring out your entire plot based on your character's wants is... problematic.

    Perhaps it's me. I really just don't relate to characters based on their desires. It's not that I want a lack of characterization in the books I read and the stories I write. It's just that.... I want so much more than that. I want a fascinating world and interesting events and thought provoking ideas. I don't want those things to be short changed for characters. But I'm beginning to feel like I'm one of only a few who feel this way.

    I'm probably not expressing myself very well here. I just felt the urge to put this out there after seeing yet another guide to plotting a story that was basically all about the character's wants. SIGH.

    Anyone else feel something similar?
     
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  2. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I certainly like characters. But there are some writers who seem to be shying away from getting too deep into personal development. One who springs to mind - and who basically changed his style to become more plot driven and fast paced etc is Simon R Green. His Deathstalker books and Eddie Drood books are a world away from his earlier stuff.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    MythopoetMythopoet I know exactly what you mean, and I've felt the same way about it—when discussing things here. There's a very strong emphasis on character driven stories and plots.

    I do enjoy reading stories that do this when they are written well, but I think other types of stories exist. Mysteries for instance. Stories that explore worlds, concepts, and so forth. A lot of straight-up adventure tales are less concerned about a character coming to terms with themselves, their pent up desires, their flaws and relationships than with, heh, the trip through the obstacle course, so to speak.
     
  4. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, I read a ton of plot driven stuff. Adventure tales for sure, like books by Clive Cussler, or Action/Adventure like the stuff by Lee Child are all plot driven. There is lots of that stuff out there still, being written every day. Many books that are series' are plot driven.

    I do tend to think that character drives the plot in most scenarios. I mean, you have no story if the character has no goal, even if that goal is simply to "find out who killed Mr. Peacock in the study with the candlestick."

    That goal would be considered the character's want, and that want could be deepened if there are high stakes, like the detective must solve the mystery because he is almost 65 and the agency wants to push him into retirement.

    So even the plot driven stuff does have to have a character driven plot, to some extent.
     
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  5. Incanus

    Incanus Archmage

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    I relate to this very, very well.

    Everything I write is concept and plot driven, so I feel pretty well buried under 1000 tons of “You shouldn’t do that! Bad, bad, bad!”

    I simply can’t help myself, and I’m going to write the kind of things I’d like to read. Of course I work on character aspects of my stories, and they’re important. But an ‘all character all the time’ story is just too boring for me. I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘character study’ stories. I prefer well-rounded stories that blend all the major elements in more or less equal measures.

    It kind of puts me in a weird spot—I suspect no publisher would want anything to do with what I’m working on. And yet, I’m going to keep on writing because I enjoy the creative process so much. I love playing with words and ideas.

    If this character stuff we’re talking about is an absolute must (and I think it’s debatable), then no more than a dozen people will ever see my stories. Basically, I’ve gotten comfortable with that idea.

    On the other hand, I see a great many discrepancies between what amateur writers are supposed to do, and what I find on bookshelves. Strange, that.
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I don't think the question is having either an empty shell for a character or having a vibrant, realistic and relatable character.

    Mysteries are a good place to look. I've not read any of the Poirot novels, but I've watched a couple or three seasons of the television show. A character like Poirot is driven to solve a crime, and those aspects make him interesting. Sherlock and Father Brown are similar—although, I think that aspects of what drives each are different. So characters can be driven by...their characters, heh.

    But that's a far cry from saying the story and plot exist to resolve these character issues or for some other more intensely personal reasons beyond those aspects. You see, none of those three went exploring for clues because some exterior agency was forcing the retirement issue, heh. (Although I do recall a Father Brown episode in which something like this came into play, I had no doubt that he'd've tried to solve the crime regardless.)

    Similarly, the fantasy adventure hero might go on an adventure to kill some mythical beast for any number of reasons. Maybe he wants the glory. Maybe he likes gold, and a city is paying mega fantasy-equivalent $$$ to kill the beast. Postulating an intensely personal motivation—his girlfriend has been taken to its lair, his father never believed in him and this is his one chance to prove his father wrong by killing the beast that ate his father, etc.—is not necessary. Another way of thinking about this is that said hero might go on any number of wildly different adventures for the very same reason, let's say gold, whereas saving his girlfriend and avenging his father's death while proving himself worthy of his father are one-shot goals.

    There is a twitchy line between these things. I could imagine a series of fantasy adventures in which the hero is always trying to prove his worth to his father. Let's say that's always his issue, and it forces him to do very dangerous things. I'd say in that case, this perpetual desire to please his father is like Poirot's perpetual desire to prove his intellect superior to every criminal's.

    That sort of thing seems more obvious in a series of tales, and characters like Poirot or Father Brown are typically said to have "flat character arcs." I don't think that's a negative.

    But what about a standalone book? This is where things are twitchy, heh. Giving personal stakes is great advice for a number of reasons. It connects the character to the outcome, helps to prevent purely reactive characters, and helps a reader engage with both the character and the story.

    Poirot has a personal stake in proving his superior intellect. Or let's say, reaffirming it. But I think the stakes of solving the murder are greater. There's a question of whether we live in a world where criminals can easily get away with committing murder—and may easily live among us without repercussions! The poet Auden wrote in an essay about detective novels, called "The Guilty Vicarage," that "The job of the detective is to restore the state of grace in which the aesthetic and the ethical are as one." Basically, he meant that the appearance of a murder, with an uncertainty about who among a group did it, muddies the water of our world and we want our water to be made pristine, heh. In any case, the stories don't exist for the purpose of helping Poirot come to that state of personal grace, himself—although he does find his intellect muddied from time to time and wants to come to a clear view of what happened! Heh.

    So this is where I've felt something like what MythopoetMythopoet said. Someone new posts on the forum and gives a bit of background on the worldbuilding for a story, some general features of a character or a few, and asks how to find a plot. One of the first suggestions is to explore what the character wants. What is the character's personal goal?

    The potential problem with that approach is the elimination of those greater stakes, those grander themes. Yes, there's evil in that fantasy world, murders, whathaveyou; but the story isn't about those, heh. Those exist merely to give an excuse for taking a character from her personal muddied waters to a pristine state. The larger conflict is merely a convenience, almost a plot device.

    Now, there's nothing wrong with that. Many great stories are precisely about that sort of thing, the exploration of character. This exploration can even be a Big Theme. This is where words like Forgiveness, Love, Courage, Compassion, Family can come in to play, and these are things that are important to many readers. (There are also negatives in this initial-cap group, but you get the idea.)

    But the danger still exists: This is a story about Sally's personal journey, and perhaps some readers don't care if she ever finds a boyfriend and forgives her father. (Although even here, there's a target for that in the market.)

    I think the advice to explore the character's deep-seated goals can work regardless, because this will help to create an interesting, engaging character. It'll help in navigating the plot. Some personal stakes in the story can be a great justification for why this particular character keeps moving forward, becomes proactive, and so forth. But I think this holds true even if the story doesn't exist merely for that exploration of character, and if the plot isn't built as a vehicle for resolving those personal stakes.
     
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  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Interesting. Yes, I've noticed the same thing and have been guilty of using the response "What does the character want?"
    But I think, when I use it, it's to help the writer address a clear goal. A clear 'through line' as it were, from beginning to end. If we take Jack Reacher, for example, in the book Tripwire, the story starts when Jack discovers a detective is looking for him. Weird. Why? But in the next chapter that detective winds up dead. So someone was looking for Jack, but someone else doesn't want him found. Very strange. Jack's goal for the novel is to find out what the heck is going on. That is his goal. Sure there is a bunch of other stuff about con men and missing money and identity theft, but all that is really just the background noise to the larger question of "what does all this have to do with Jack?"

    It's very much a plot driven story, in that Jack is not reunited with his long lost father and learns to love and trust family again blah blah blah... but the MC still must have a clear and quantifiable goal.
     
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  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I'd really rather this not devolve into a discussion of "character driven" VS. "plot driven" because I believe that's a false dilemma. It's simply not necessary to elevate any one element of story telling above another. It's fine to do that, if you WANT to, but you should never feel you HAVE to. And that's one of the things I'm objecting to here, writing advice that makes it seem that you HAVE to elevate character above all else. I've seen so many books, articles and posts that get very vocal about how character is EVERYTHING. Well, I simply disagree.

    I'm one of those people (the only person?) who strongly believe that there is NOTHING truly NECESSARY in fiction. At it's most basic fiction is one person telling another person (via some type of media) about stuff happening that person 1 made up in order to interest person 2. EVERYTHING else is a matter of choice and taste. No exceptions.

    It's perfectly valid to personally be most interested in character development and so to put that at the center of your story and make everything else subordinate to it. If that is what you like and that is your choice then you should absolutely do it.

    Just like with every other element of fiction, the problem comes when people confuse what works for them with what should work for everyone. Then they go around telling everyone to put character first and somehow it become a huge trend and then it practically becomes writing industry law and people like me begin to despair.

    Again, I'm NOT a "plot driven" person any more than I'm a "character driven" person. I LIKE characterization. I even like character driven novels. (And I'm not looking for novel recommendations.) I just get sick to my stomach when it looks like EVERYTHING is tending toward "CHARACTER IS ALL. CHARACTER IS ALL." Which is what it seems like sometimes. I want to see more talk about how character, plot, setting, and idea work together, balance each other, and support each other. Less "plot your story directly from what your character's narcissistic desires are" and more "think about how your character exists within your world and what types of events might happen from that relationship".
     
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  9. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    Interesting/Good characters are the most important part of any fiction.

    Good worldbuilding and Plot are just a cherry on top.
    Example: Shingeki no Bahamut
    It has a very bad/average setting and a mediocre plot.
    But the character interactions and personal growth are what makes the series great and one of my personal favorites.

    Or Star Wars. Star wars has a plot which is bassicaly a hearoes journey how we know it from 1000 B.C while the setting is an incoherent mess of fantasy and bad Sci-Fi. Yet people love it due to the characters.

    I've seen many good promising works of fiction with interesting settings be mediocre at best due to shitty and bland characters.

    CHaracters are the most important part of the story. Their want does not have to be the driving factor of the story, but in the end they are what drives the story.
     
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  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Fixed that for you.
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    It may be a chicken-egg sort of thing, but with consequences heh.

    An author with a world and general character in mind asks, "Gah! I can't figure out a plot! What do I do?"

    A helpful guide/catalyst asks in return, "What is the character's personal stakes? What does the character want?"

    Without some kind of plot or set of plots in mind already, how can that last question be answered?

    Well, Frodo like parties, drinking in the tavern, eating and dancing. He likes being with his friends, just kinda coasting. Sometimes he sits in the wood alone reading a book. So...aha! I need to disrupt that, since these are his driving [internal] motivations. He'll need to work to resolve these disruptions, return to the life he wants. Or else he needs to change, grow, start wanting other things.

    Hmmmm. Samwise gets a girlfriend who doesn't fit in with the group of his friends. Actually, she's one of the distant Bagginses. She has her sights set on a particular hole in the ground and is using Samwise to worm her way closer to Frodo and Bilbo. All kinds of character conflict ensues. Samwise is angry with the way Frodo treats her, and this causes a split between them... OK, heh, I could go on with this and add even more events in Shire society, more threats to Frodo's comfy life, working in Merry and Pippen. I don't know yet whether Frodo will succeed in thwarting this threat and reestablish his old life or change somehow and find a new life doing some other things, which might involve new friends. But the throughline could be in thwarting these things.

    ^That could be an interesting fanfic, heh. Even if part of the worldbuilding already in mind includes a distant land called Mordor and all that comes with it, as well as the humans and elves...well, that could be the breaking point. Something this girlfriend does inadvertently signals the presence of the Shire to a wandering band of orcs—maybe she's conspiring with a traitorous human to cause disruption in Bag End, and it's this human who has dealings with orcs....All this comes to a head when she's revealed for what she is, the threat to Bag End is removed, and friendships are restored. Heck, let's say Merry will be the redshirt when the orcs come a-callin'.

    We could work in another traveling duo. An odd friendship between an elf and a dwarf. They've been tracking this band of orcs because they like killing orcs and keeping the lands free of those bands. But they've somehow lost track of the band. This isn't revealed right away, not until much later. Their real purpose in the story is to remind Frodo of what he's missing, his friend Samwise. At some point they regale him with the tale of how they didn't get along at first but eventually came to trust each other. Friendship theme.

    Ha so I've actually gone on and on with this scenario. It was fun. It's a little funny for me because I know the real story. But for some other conceived world and general character....Well, this approach could lead to a very enjoyable story. Unless we don't want to write that kind of smaller focused friendship drama.

    But...chicken/egg. Let's say we know Sauron's about to launch armies beyond Mordor, and the whole world outside Mordor is threatened. That's part of the worldbuilding we've established, the general threat. We want to write an epic. We have a special love for a character we've already created, Frodo. How do we find the plot, the throughline, and kick things off?

    Well, what does Frodo want? Same things as above. So maybe we can disrupt that comfy life and involve Frodo in this bigger threat by bringing that threat directly to him, to the Shire. I do think that introduction of other characters into the tale won't be merely as examples of Friendship, heh, but rather as allies and antagonists affecting this pursuit. And we can still weave in the Friendship theme, themes of Home, Good and Evil. Samwise goes with Frodo, obviously—as a reminder of home among other things. A strong ally in this pursuit. We can sprinkle the whole tale with these personal stakes to make the tale more engaging. It's not just another "World's about to end!" tale.
     
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  12. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    -_- No, you can't write any good work of fiction if you plan on having shit characters and an interesting story. A "fantasy world encyclopedia" won't be interesting.

    Please don't say "fix" when all you did was try to delegitimaze statements you disagree with.
     
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  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You're apparently misunderstanding the point of this thread. AT NO POINT did anyone advocate "shit characters". In fact, I have more than once asserted that I do consider characterization important. But I do not consider it important ABOVE ALL OTHER elements of story. Personally, I enjoy stories with a good balance of all the 4 pillars of story (plot, setting, character, idea/theme) the most.

    You seem to be unable to comprehend the possibility that one can write good characters AT THE SAME TIME that one writes a good plot and setting. Perhaps that's not what you mean, but it seems that way. Anyway, I reject that idea completely. Furthermore, you seem unable to comprehend that everything you were stating was an opinion and I merely edited your post to reflect that. Writers need to understand that fiction is all about taste and your taste is NOT objective.

    Speaking of Shingeki no Bahamut (if you are talking about the anime and not the game) then I would say that in the first season the overall characterization is average as is the plot and setting, though the setting has the most potential. It was an enjoyable season. The second season took what was good from the first season as its foundation and added to all of it and managed to achieve truly excellent characters, setting AND plot. Being more of a fantasy action romp, it was somewhat low on the idea/theme side, but that's ok. It was a great season. I think it was great because of the excellent balance of 3 of the story pillars. None was far above the others and only one pillar was low. It was very well done.
     
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  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Interesting character does not mean character driven. Either way, I think character driven and plot driven are overblown, The main thing in genre fiction is that the story must be driven, it doesn’t matter what’s behind the wheel so long as the motor’s started and the gas pedal is down... and take off the parking break... well, you get the idea, heh heh.
     
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  15. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    "You seem to be unable to comprehend the possibility that one can write good characters AT THE SAME TIME that one writes a good plot and setting."
    WRONG. I do. I clearly said that worldbuilding and Plot are the cherry on top. Also "balanced" assumes that you can't have a great plot + characters + worldbuilding. That's what balance means. I advocate the exact opposite. Make everything as good as possible.

    You clearly said you dislike "character driven fiction" so fiction which has characters which are good. If what you wrote in that one out of contrext sentence is correct then we agree. That's my opinion.
     
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You think... that "character driven" equals "good characters"? Really? And you think that balanced story elements is the "exact opposite" of making everything as good as possible? Seriously? I am... mind boggled.

    And no. You can look up the thread and see where I said "I LIKE characterization. I even like character driven novels."

    Anyway, I don't think there's any point the two of us trying to work out these differences because you are determined to misunderstand everything I say and have some very strange working definitions. I don't think we can ever agree.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Fifthview I totally get what you are saying. The Lord of the ring references were great!

    Yes, I can see how that it a problem, and how establishing a hook when you don't even have a plot yet would be tricky!

    Funny enough this is how I typically design my stories! Maybe there are lots of us?

    I think "hmmmmm, I want there to be a hidden treasure that pirates are after and the mc has to get it before the bad pirate does." So, plot first.

    The I'd start brainstorming, ok, how did the mc get into this mess? How did they get involved? Character second.

    Is that what you are referring to mytho? Plot first planning? Where the mc doesn't need any other goal than just the main plot goal? They don't have an inner, personal goal? I'm just trying to be clear on the discussion here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2017
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  18. I must say, I do like books that have a balance of character-driven plot and in-universe mythology-driven plot. Although my second book is half actual story and half appendices...
     
  19. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    Sure. I am the one misconstruing the others points.
    Sure I am the one misconstruing the other's points. Says the person who rewrote my comment so it sounds more pleasant to them.
     
  20. Look, we all have our own opinions. Can we just agree for a moment that it's alright to have those opinions, without trying to change other people's views? In the heat of an internet debate, it's all too easy to forget that.
     
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