Writing Tip: Character vs. Plot and Likeable Characters

Power of WordsReaders may argue over what is most important, plot or character. I argue that character is more important than plot. I’ve read novels and stories in which an unlikeable character ruined an awesome plot. I’ve also read novels and stories in which a terrible (or almost non-existent) plot was saved by a likable character.

For many writers, the problem is that the character exists in a very real and very likeable way in the author’s mind. Sometimes, communicating that likability onto paper is a challenge. Readers like to be shown things in a concrete way. Years ago, the book that solidified this idea for me was The Bad Beginning, the first in the series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events.

In this series, the main characters have tell-tale physical traits or ticks that help us visualize their personalities. When Violet thinks hard about something, for instance, she ties her hair up to keep it out of her eyes. Readers may argue over what is most important, plot or character. I argue that character is more important than plot. I’ve read novels and stories in which an unlikeable character ruined an awesome plot. I’ve also read novels and stories in which a terrible (or almost non-existent) plot was saved by a likable character.

For many writers, the problem is that the character exists in a very real and very likeable way in the author’s mind. Sometimes, communicating that likability onto paper is a challenge. Readers like to be shown things in a concrete way. Years ago, the book that solidified this idea was The Bad Beginning, the first in the series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this series, the main characters have tell-tale physical traits or ticks that help us visualize their personalities. When Violet thinks hard about something, for instance, she ties her hair up to keep it out of her eyes. This very human habit made me like her as a character.

It’s important to plan a character’s traits before delving into the story. Even if this exists in a subconscious way, I like to write it out before I start writing the actual story. I like to list tangible ways to show my character’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m usually good at thinking of intangible qualities, but I’m not as good at showing these things in a way readers will understand. Having some type of pre-writing helps me keep the reader in mind.

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What do you think?