Wednesday, May 28, 2014

PLOT VS. CHARACTER by best-selling author Michaelbrent Collings

Some people don’t understand how important character is to a successful story. Or how it interacts with the importance of plot.

Well, here’s how important it is: “super-duper.” And that’s a metric super-duper, which is, like, twice as big as a standard unit super-duper.

So: very important.

Plot is also super-duper important (also metric unit), but in a different way. Both are needed to create the Pure Awesome that is a successful story.

Here’s how I like to explain it:

When I first saw my wife, my impression was that she was Amazingly Hawt. She could have given the sun a sunburn.

And, eventually, we got married.

But (yes, there’s always a but)…

… I didn’t marry her because of said Hawtness. I married her because she was smart, and kind, and spiritual, and good.  In other words, the thing that first drew me to her was that she was a babe. The thing that kept me with her was that she was an amazing person.

This, to me, is a perfect analogy for the interaction between plot and character.

The great majority of my books have a “hook” – an interesting plot device that is laid out quickly and clearly. Strangers has a family that is sealed in their own home by a killer who wants to have some, ahem, “quality time” with them. The Colony Saga is about a man who is trying to survive a zombie apocalypse in which 99.9% of the world’s population is changed or killed in only ten minutes. Crime Seen is about a detective on the trail of a serial killer who turns out to have died some time ago.

The reason these are called “hooks” is as obvious as the reason I approached my wife fairly quickly after observing her Major Babe-itude: they are meant to draw in the audience. To create questions in their minds, a need to find out “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” These are, basically, plots in microcosm. They are the beginning, middle, and end in a single line. With Strangers you know that the family is going to be locked up, tortured (mentally or physically), and then will either escape… or not. With Crime Seen you know the detective will hunt the ghost, will suffer loss, and then will find a way to exorcise the phantom… or not.

The plot, in other words, draws us in, and maintains a certain level of interest as we read a book or watch a movie or play.

The character, though… like my wife’s own character, the characters in a story are the thing that makes that story set up residence in our lives forever. We remember the basic story of Lord of the Rings, but the moment that has become part of our DNA is the moment when Frodo demonstrates his goodness by refusing to kill Gollum. We love the general outlines of Star Wars IV, but the moments we love, the moments we wish we could emulate, revolve around Han’s roguishness or Luke’s innocent goodness or Leia’s toughness under pressure.

The plot is the initial attraction, and the thing that gives us reasons to stay when character isn’t counting for much.

The characters rarely have that power. They can rarely catch us from the opening reel the same way a good hook can do. But they have staying power. They become part of our lives, part of our emotional makeup, part of who we are.

Both are important. One gives us a reason to start. The other gives us a reason to stay.

And that creates the Pure Awesome of a wonderful story.


Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter. His bestsellers include The Colony Saga, Strangers, Darkbound, Apparition, The Haunted, The Loon, and the YA fantasy series The Billy Saga (beginning with Billy: Messenger of Powers).

He hopes someday to develop superpowers, and maybe get a cool robot arm.

Michaelbrent has a wife and several kids, all of whom are much better looking than he is (though he admits that's a low bar to set), and much MUCH cooler than he is (also a low bar).

Michaelbrent also has a Facebook page at and can be followed on Twitter through his username @mbcollings. Follow him for awesome news, updates, and advance notice of sales. You will also be kept safe when the Glorious Revolution begins!

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