Characters vs. Plot and never the two shall meet

Why does it seem that lately, in all the books I read, there’s either amazing characterization OR a gripping plot line? I admit, I don’t read ‘literary’ novels, I am very much an escapist reader. But, why does having one seem to sacrifice the other?

The books that have excellent character development, logical psychological history (as in past events and the character’s reactions to those events made sense, psychologically-speaking) and character growth (rather than a complete personality overhaul when they emerge on the other side of the main conflict) have thin, boring and predictable plots.

The books that have intricate plots with twists and turns and legitimate surprises seem to have superficial characters at best.


Am I greedy? Why can’t I have both? Am I expecting too much from authors? I mean, I know we all have our strengths and weaknesses but a stop on the way to being published seems to involve having people read your work and point out any errors. Did no one mention that your plot sucks? Or that your characters are two dimensional?

Granted, people these days don’t seem to be up for as much cerebral stimulation as they once were (another rant for another time) but my gawd, if that’s what you’re worried about then use smaller words and shorter sentences! But don’t sacrifice the two things that make a novel worth reading: decent plot and characterization!

4 thoughts on “Characters vs. Plot and never the two shall meet

  1. Hmm, interesting. Yes, I think most authors seem to be “plot” people or “character” people (and ne’er the twain shall meet!). The ability to balance the two off is limited to the top flight authors, in my experience.

    It doesn’t actually bother me as I’m a plot person and I actively seek out plot-heavy fiction for recreational reading… But I agree that truly quality fiction is written with a better balance, and that very few authors seem to manage that! 🙂

  2. You’re not greedy. The key was the part where you said you don’t read literary fiction. Perhaps it’s time to start. Just because a novel is a Serious Literary Novel That Won Awards and Stuff doesn’t mean that you can’t read it as an escape or that it’s going to feel like slogging through something you were forced to read for school.

    There’s certainly no guarantee that because a novel is ‘literary’ that it’s going to have that perfect combination of plot and character you’re looking for, but I think the odds might be better. The person who said that this ability to combine both is limited to top-flight authors is absolute right. So read top flight authors! Problems solved.

    Some books that I have absolutely loved lately, which would be classified as ‘literary fiction’ but which were in no way tedious or school-like:

    In One Person – John Irving
    The Headmaster’s Wager – Vincent Lam (This won some kind of big literary award, I still read it in one sitting beside the pool on vacation, doesn’t get more escapist than that)
    Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver

    How are you picking out books? I like to get recommendations from friends, I read the book reviews section in the weekend newspaper, I usually pick a few things from the short lists for major literary awards, and I try out the authors that my favourite authors like. I still end up buying a few losers here and there but overall I find way more books that I really enjoy.

  3. I’m on Goodreads a lot. I think it’s that my preferred genres (paranormal and horror) don’t tend to attract the top-flight authors. I greatly enjoy Kim Harrison and Laurel K Hamilton. I’ve got Kelly Armstrong’s books that I need to read. I do also love a good psychological thriller (I find psychology fascinating). I’ll have to take a look at those books you mentioned! 🙂

  4. Yeah, the books I mentioned are general fiction, nothing paranormal or horror about them. I find it a lot easier to find good writing in general fiction, there are writers doing great things in genre fiction but you sure do have to hunt through a lot of crap to find them. I like fantasty and science fiction, but I’m pretty picky about authors within those genres. I have low tolerance for bad writing and over-reliance on cliches, tropes and stereotypes, which are plentiful in fantasy and science fiction. I end up reading general fiction the most because it’s easiest to find good original writing.

    So for paranormal and horror.. try Andrew Pyper. He’s Canadian, so he gets marketed as “Canadian Literature” but I bet he’d get called a horror writer if he was American. The Killing Circle is very much a horror novel.

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