Novel writing, we are told, falls into two categories; literature – which is ‘character driven’ where the drama comes from the personalities and the actual setting might be quite unadventurous otherwise; or ‘plot-driven’, where a character is secondary to dramatic stories.
The former, stereotypically, appears in the kinds of novels that our English teachers used to torture us with at high school. I recall mine was a complete assassin of any interest we might have had in the classics – he even made Catch 22 boring, if you can imagine that.
Plot-driven stories usually appear in the cool novels we read for brain-turned-off entertainment. Or watch on TV. Stereotypically. The characters are often backdrops to some adventure that we experience vicariously – the driving force here isn’t the character but the emotional release we get from the adventure story
Stereotypically, again, literature is often associated with older readers, plot-driven stories with kidult or teen tales.
But do the twain really need to be separated?
Sometimes, too, the priorities we associate with ‘literature’ can turn up in quite different stories. Look at Stanislaw Lem’s The Invincible, for instance. The characters were cardboard – but the story was an astonishingly powerful exploration of the dissonance between human perception and the future relationship with machines.
My take is that there is probably a balance. I’d hesitate to call it a hybrid, or something that falls between the cracks – I’m talking about stories where the characters address most of what we think of as ‘literature’, but where the plot itself can be adventurous.
Put another way, we know what sells – which is the plot driven stuff. But the onus is still there to create great people (not ‘characters’) to fill the pages, And great stories.
What’s your take on this?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013