Plot V. Character

It sometimes feels like people look down on you slightly if you show preference for an action-packed adventure novel over a thought-provoking, metaphor-laced novel that investigates the many layers in a character’s personality. Sure, I love a good weird book every now and then that might not have a particularly block-blustery plot-line, but follows some great character arcs, such as Room by Emma Donoghue (well… it was interesting. And uncomfortable).

But personally, I usually like a good mix. Fabulous adventures with empty characters leave me feeling let-down (and make me think how I could have done it better), whereas solely character-driven books can get a little bit tedious. I love books where rounded characters get up to mischief and mayhem, so you both can’t put the book down with excitement, but would also care if someone was killed off.

Which is more important to you, plot or character? Also, in your favourite book, which is stronger? (look hard…the difference may only be slight)

If you write, which comes more naturally to you, delving into someone’s psyche or stitching together rip-roaring action?

Maeve x

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Revisiting the Same Spot

Following on from my last post about setting, I was wondering, how much detail is too much detail? When I say detail, I mean ‘stolen-from-reality’ detail as in shop names as opposed to invented detail. I’m also talking about writing as opposed to reading when do you stop taking from true life and giving with your imagination? If a school is part of your story, should you invent it in your area, or should you describe one of the schools that already exists there? But then if you do this, and you need a scene that includes a maths teacher, how can you make sure it’s crystal clear that the maths teacher in your story is completely invented and not based on an actual maths teacher that teaches there (it’s harder when you’re actually still in the school, you notice their mannerisms creeping into your characters!)? You don’t want to make the gap between reality and imagination so obvious that everyone reading goes, “hold on, I believed it up until there, but what the hell?”, but instead make sure people don’t bring you to court for writing about them, because it’s clear they aren’t in your story.

 

This also applies to local events that take place… should you actually name bands that placed at a big concert, or should you throw in a few random bands, or should you completely invent them? Someone just get elected president, and you need them for your story: should you use their name or invent it? For me, as a reader, I know it would sort of ruin the realism of a story if the author put Philip J Keohane (just a random name, first I thought of) as the president of Ireland in a story set in the present or past.

 

Also, as a reader, I love the warm, “Oh! I know this place!” feeling you get when you recognise a setting in a book (the whole way through Jasper Winn’s Paddle, I was fuzzy feeling from knowing it all, even though it doesn’t really count in this discussion as it wasn’t fiction).

 

The whole, “write what you know” mantra comes to mind: if you plan on really saturating your story in the setting, you’re probably off really knowing that setting well first. Though it is a little limiting, it opens up the necessity to travel to research you book – a good excuse! Honestly though, I know how annoying it is to have someone write about a place you know well when it’s obvious they don’t know what it’s really like: the number of books that are set in Ireland that are written from what tourists experience without any notion of what life here is really like isn’t even funny. I mean, half the world now believes we still all whitewash our houses.

 

So, what’s your opinion on the depth of local detail you can include in your story?

Putting Plot in its Place

So in my post on cultural context, I discussed on the importance of social setting in a text, and of course how social context is affected by geographical setting. In this post, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the impact of geographical setting on a reader, as opposed to its impact on the plot.

Where is your favourite novel set? Is it in an imaginary land of fantastical beasts, such as the medieval town of The Castle (and the surrounding lands) where the Septimus Heap books are set? Is it set in a place that is closely tied to reality and geographical locations, but is slightly askew and cannot be found on an actual map, such as Hogsmeade? Or is it seeped in realism, based in a certain place, for example the West of Ireland, but isn’t actually a geographical location (but no one but people from the area would actually know this) such as the small rural town JB Kean’s Field is based in? Is it set in an actual, real location that you could find on a map and go to visit, if you so wished, such as the books in The Twilight Saga?

Setting plays a huge part in setting the tone of the books, but what impact does it have directly on the reader? I think it depends on what type of reader you are: whether you like to be completely immersed in the world of the book, or if you like to appreciate the story from a bit of a distance. This reading experience is closely linked with the way your favourite books are written: immersive readers tend to prefer first-person narrative, while observationalists may choose third-person.

I stand up willing to be proven wrong, but I think immersive, first-person-loving readers settings saturated in realism, such as those Stephenie Meyer writes (both in The Host and in The Twilight Saga), that exist in the actual world and are true to life down to minute detail, such as the names of the nearby roads, forests, and beaches. Observationalist readers tend to prefer imaginative settings, often not based in our world, where books such as Angie Sage’s Magyk are set. Preferring third person, they do not feel the same need to be part of the story that immersive readers do: they do not need to feel that the plot could happen to them, in this world, right now.

Then there is the middle ground, where most books that are mainly about the dramas of daily life lie. They are based in an area (East Coast, USA; rural France; a village in Norway, ect.) but the place names do not actually exist. The setting can be quite specific, down to a state or province, but still be made up. People who aren’t from the area or who don’t have local knowledge probably wouldn’t know the difference, but these books can sometimes lack a highly detailed description of the setting (which may work with the book just fine), as they don’t have the physical place to describe nor the compulsion to imagine every last detail of a fantastical land.

Where does that leave people who love books about dystopian societies set in the future? I’m open to suggestions! Where is your favourite book set? How do you think the setting affects you as a reader?

(also, apologies again to the subscribers who got a few typos first time round!)