Monday, June 30, 2014


by John B. Rosenman

What’s more important to a writer—a good plot or good characters? 
What’s more important in a movie—a good plot or good characters?
It’s an old debate, dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics 2400 years ago.  Writing of tragic plays, Aristotle analyzed the complexities of Plot and placed it First over Character in terms of importance.
But this is a new age, and we have new forms of art.  What about you?  Think of good books you’ve read, good movies you’ve seen.  What is more important—plot or characters?  Oh, I know other things are important, too.  Good dialogue, good description, and so on.  But which one really pulls you in more and keeps you reading or watching.
In my Inspector of the Cross series, Turtan is four thousand years old and has had many breath-taking adventures fighting the aliens in order to save humanity.  I think he’s a really interesting guy, but the plot ain’t bad either.  In fact, you couldn’t really have one without the other.  (Available at Amazon below):

In my just published novel The Merry-Go-Round Man about three teenage boys growing up in the not-so-innocent fifties, Johnny Roth is just beginning to discover two great (and I think interesting) gifts. The plot itself raises the question of whether or not the boy who scrambles first to the top of a small merry-go-round will be a winner for the rest of his life.  Johnny takes part in this contest.  Is he or this major plot element more important? (Available at Amazon below):
Or think of classic literature.  Isn’t mad, fanatical Captain Ahab a wonderful character in Moby Dick?  Yes, but what would he be without his endless quest for a white whale across the world’s oceans?
You can probably pick any medium you like.  The movies, for example.  Ah, the Star Wars franchise.  It’s hard to beat the menacing Darth Vader, the mystery man with the deep, deep voice and in-drawn, hissing breath beneath the frightening mask.  Talk about being unforgettable!  Still, the galactic-wide war beneath two empires, one good, one bad, one ruled by the Dark Side, is as awesome and archetypal as you could wish.  Luke Skywalker and Han Solo vs. Darth Vader et al.  The Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys.  The only thing missing are the white hats and the black hats.    
You can probably add your own genres and mediums.  In the end, what do you think is more important—a good plot, good characters, or something else?  Or is the question dumb or meaningless?  Aristotle also included Spectacle as the lowest and least important of his six parts of tragedy, but judging by movie blockbusters today, special effects, bombs exploding, lavish sets, costumes and the like are what often attract people to the theater.  To heck with old Aristotle: is SPECTACLE the most important thing in movies or fiction?

Gentle Reader, you tell me.

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