Thursday, December 23, 2010

Transcript: Character Studies v. Plot Driven Stories

An interesting random Twitter chat, otherwise called a chitter, sprang up today on character studies v. plot driven stories.  Here's the transcript of that portion:

6:10 pmshadowflame1974:So what is the difference between a character study and a short story? Lacks plot and devolopment? #rdmwrtdisc
6:11 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 one you'd like to publish and one you'd cringe if someone actually read it. #rdmwrtdisc
6:12 pmshadowflame1974:@cryssfox lol (I tend to do a lot of character studies I guess ;) ) #rdmwrtdisc
6:12 pminkgorilla:i find a character study ends up being exploration of motives, setting, personality w/ just a veneer of plot... #rdmwrtdisc
6:13 pmNateCrowder:@shadowflame1974 Pretty much. Unless the char. or setting is exciting enough to BE the story, it needs a plot. At least for me. #rdmwrtdisc
6:13 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 I do some character studies that are almost fan fictiony-I put my characters in known settings. #rdmwrtdisc
6:13's true that if it's good enough, that may be enough for a short story. but sometimes it's just enough to get ideas #rdmwrtdisc
6:13 pmshadowflame1974:But character studies are useful. gives you a glimpse of who and what the MC is #rdmwrtdisc
6:14 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 Absolutely. #rdmwrtdisc
6:14 pminkgorilla:@shadowflame1974 exactly. #rdmwrtdisc
6:15 pmNateCrowder:I don't want to dismiss character studies. If nothing else, it's good development work for a later story. Like practicing scales #rdmwrtdisc
6:16 pminkgorilla:@NateCrowder i like that.. scales. #rdmwrtdisc
6:16 pmshadowflame1974:do you think that writers should practice character studies? Like for each MC do one or should it just happen? #rdmwrtdisc
6:17 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 I rarely do a separate character study. Because I write by letting my story unfold, it doesn't work well. #rdmwrtdisc
6:17 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 It really helps if you feel you don't know your characters well enough. #rdmwrtdisc
6:17 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 Ive done plenty of prewriting on characters as well. Either can work. It's all about what you need as an author #rdmwrtdisc
6:18 pmshadowflame1974:@David_JWest no not talking about slush just a random discussion if you'd like to join in #rdmwrtdisc
6:18 pminkgorilla:i don't set out necessarily to do a study. sometimes just happens that way #rdmwrtdisc
6:19 pmsandrawickham:@shadowflame1974 On my iPod touch so gonna be behind a lot methinks. I might just have to lurk. :p #rdmwrtdisc
6:19 pmNateCrowder:@inkgorilla same here. And practice showing motivation and description is good practice, even if you never use that character. #rdmwrtdisc
6:19 pmshadowflame1974:@sandrawickham no worries I'll save the discussion and put it on my blog for later :D #rdmwrtdisc
6:20 pmshadowflame1974:@NateCrowder @inkgorilla but if you do one, do you feel more confidant of the characters? #rdmwrtdisc
6:21 pmsandrawickham:@inkgorilla: Short stories I don't do official character studies, for novels I do. Probably not enough so I do more with drafts #rdmwrtdisc
6:22 pmBryanThomasS:@sandrawickham Like me. I go back before a 2nd draft and compile character studies then flesh them out so I can deepen the arcs #rdmwrtdisc
6:22 pmNateCrowder:@shadowflame1974 @inkgorilla #rdmwrtdisc sometimes yes. And sometimes I realize that character doesn't fit in what I was planning to write.
6:23 pmshadowflame1974:@BryanThomasS @sandrawickham Interesting that you go back and fill in the gaps so to speak with the chars. #rdmwrtdisc
6:23 pmBryanThomasS:Do you guys have a specific set of data or questions you ask yourselves about characters or does it vary? #rdmwrtdisc
6:23 pmSheikYurbouti:Can i get a definition of character study? #rdmwrtdisc
6:23 pmshadowflame1974:@NateCrowder if he doesn't fit,do you save it for later or adjust the character? #rdmwrtdisc
6:23 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 A lot of that is because, like the story, the characters kind of come alive in context and I need the story #rdmwrtdisc
6:23 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 to unfold first. #rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pmSheikYurbouti:I'm picturing reams of prose on physical attributes, motives, history, etc. #rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 But I do the same thing with motifs and theme as well as filling out the plot, closing holes, etc. #rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pmcryssfox:@SheikYurbouti For me I put a character in a known fictional realm and see what happens to them. #rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pmshadowflame1974:@SheikYurbouti I think a character study is more of an essay of the character, background, emotions, actions. not always a story #rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pmKnightChills:@shadowflame1974 I've been writing 10 years but more into it the last 3 years. I only outline for longer works.#rdmwrtdisc
6:24 pminkgorilla:well, yeah, when you do a study you get a rough highlight of the attributes of the char, which can make it easier.. #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pmNateCrowder:@shadowflame1974 if I can't use them in that piece, they get added to a file of characters waiting for the right story. #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pminkgorilla:though sometimes I just play "20 Questions" with the char (i have a list) and go from there. #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pmsandrawickham:@shadowflame1974: @BryanThomasS By the second draft I know better who they are and/or who I need them to be. #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pmRshunter88:@shadowflame1974 I make lists and charts about the characters, but don't write out scenes that aren't in the novel. #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pmWulfie_:@BryanThomasS I do mine like a background check &then resume and brief bio. That way they tell me how they'll act in situations #rdmwrtdisc
6:25 pmcryssfox:@SheikYurbouti I consider character studies to me like getting to know a character. For me its organic. #rdmwrtdisc
6:26 pmshadowflame1974:@BryanThomasS so really your first draft to see where you need to improve. you use the skeleton method kinda. ;) #rdmwrtdisc
6:26 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Yeah. Lots of dialogue. The scenes and basic description. I add all the flowery stuff and meat in 2nd draft #rdmwrtdisc
6:27 pmNateCrowder:#rdmwrtdisc my character studies are usually snapshots of that person in space, a random scene and dialogue go get the cut of their jib.
6:28 pmshadowflame1974:do any of you do and RP with someone else to learn more about the character? #rdmwrtdisc
6:28 pmNateCrowder:#rdmwrtdisc and for novels, I just do a paragraph with motivation and a few descriptive notes for all major characters.
6:28 pmBryanThomasS:@sandrawickham Exactly #rdmwrtdisc
6:29 pmWulfie_:@shadowflame1974 I do. I also use the empty chair method where 'we' talk. lol #rdmwrtdisc
6:29 pmshadowflame1974:wow bungled that. Do any of you RP with someone else to develop a character? #rdmwrtdisc
6:29 pmsandrawickham:@BryanThomasS: I'm the same way! A "putter-inner." I'm learning to do more character building before starting though. #rdmwrtdisc
6:29 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 No but I used to suggest that technique to my students. #rdmwrtdisc
6:29 pmNateCrowder:@shadowflame1974 #rdmwrtdisc No, but several characters have come from and gone to actual RPG's. ;)
6:30 pmBryanThomasS:@sandrawickham I'm finding that in my 2nd novel in a series, I have to do a lot more, especially outlining scenes & plot. #rdmwrtdisc
6:30 pmBryanThomasS:@sandrawickham And character details come out through that. #rdmwrtdisc
6:30 pmpfallerj:@shadowflame1974 Paragraphs. I do a little mini-synopsis of each scene, so I can get emotions, plot and character development. #rdmwrtdisc
6:30 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 For ex, in my epic fantasy, I found that two characters had great banter so I am going back in to add more #rdmwrtdisc
6:31 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 and emphasize the comedy. But also working on the motivations behind that. #rdmwrtdisc
6:31 pmshadowflame1974:@pfallerj do you find that helps you in character development? #rdmwrtdisc
6:31 pmWulfie_:Longer pieces need more char development but shorts, not so much, no room 4 it, more action oriented. #rdmwrtdisc
6:32 pmBryanThomasS:@Wulfie_ Character comes out through those actions very much. #rdmwrtdisc
6:32 pmWulfie_:It probably depends on whether the writer/story is character driven or plot driven too. char driven wd need more work there. #rdmwrtdisc
6:33 pmsandrawickham:@shadowflame1974: Re: RP, I got to interview my friend (under cover narcotics officer) and she has inspired character traits. #rdmwrtdisc
6:33 pmcryssfox:@Wulfie_ Absolutely. I tend to write character pieces and so find myself doing character work even for 300-1000 word shorts. #rdmwrtdisc
6:34 pmshadowflame1974:In your opinion which is harder, a character driven or plot driven short story? #rdmwrtdisc
6:34 pmWulfie_:It also relates to how story comes to you, if idea starts w/a char, you'll run w/that. if it's scene/action, you'll focus there #rdmwrtdisc
6:34 pmBryanThomasS:@cryssfox My stuff's character driven, too. I am a lot more interest in characters than any science or other details. #rdmwrtdisc
6:35 pminkhaven:@shadowflame1974 I've never really understood the difference. #rdmwrtdisc
6:35 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 They're different things. Character driven focus more on motives with actions & consequences. #rdmwrtdisc
6:35 pmWulfie_:@cryssfox Yeah, same here. I prefer character driven too. #rdmwrtdisc
6:35 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 I think it depends on what you like to write. I have trouble writing plot-driven because it doesn't interest me #rdmwrtdisc
6:36 pminkhaven:@shadowflame1974 Character and plot seem so inextricably linked. #rdmwrtdisc
6:36 pmshadowflame1974:@inkhaven @BryanThomasS has a good answer on character driven. #rdmwrtdisc
6:36 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 But at the same time you spnd more time with the internal life of the character in character driven. #rdmwrtdisc
6:36 pmsandrawickham:@shadowflame1974: For me plot is always harder! (this is a great way to kill time doing cardio, btw! Lol) #rdmwrtdisc
6:37 pmWulfie_:@inkhaven characters move the story in one, external circumstances move it in the other. Both contain bits of ea. other tho. #rdmwrtdisc
6:37 pmshadowflame1974:I agree they are linked, but I think character driven gets more in the char's head. You have more reason for them to be involved #rdmwrtdisc
6:37 pmcryssfox:@sandrawickham (It's also a great way to distract myself while editing informational SEO copy.) #rdmwrtdisc
6:38 pmNateCrowder:@shadowflame1974 #rdmwrtdisc I find plot-driven easier to write, but not compelling if I don't find the character hook to connect to.
6:38 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Thanks. #rdmwrtdisc
6:38 pmWulfie_:@shadowflame1974 right, more personally motivated. Whereas plot driven is more circumstance/externally driven. #rdmwrtdisc
6:38 pmshadowflame1974:Plot driven ex: Hero forced into fighting for his country Char driven: Hero WANTS to fight for his country #rdmwrtdisc
6:38 pmTheTillMonkey:@NateCrowder @shadowflame1974 often nearer the beginning, but I've had a 'vision' of the ending before I've even started before #rdmwrtdisc
6:39 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Yes. Exactly. Less about external events than the character's response #rdmwrtdisc
6:39 pminkhaven:@shadowflame1974 Can you give me an example of a plot-driven story I might know? Maybe I just don't read enough of them. #rdmwrtdisc
6:39 pmRshunter88:@Wulfie_ I guess I've never made a distinction. To me a plot's a plot whether I spend time in a char's head or outside it. #rdmwrtdisc
6:40 pmNateCrowder:If I'm not interested in the character (as writer OR reader), I'm less interested in how they get from point A to point B. #rdmwrtdisc
6:40 pmcryssfox:@inkhaven the davinci code #rdmwrtdisc
6:40 pmsandrawickham:@Wulfie_: Yes. Can't have 1 without the other. Character to me seems to be subplot many times vs "the plot" #talkinoutmyarse #rdmwrtdisc
6:40 pmWulfie_:@Rshunter88 Then you use a combo of the two. That works too. #rdmwrtdisc
6:40 pminkhaven:@shadowflame1974 Or maybe I just haven't taken the time to sort them out. Probably be a good exercise for me to do so. #rdmwrtdisc
6:41 pmWulfie_:@sandrawickham Right on! #rdmwrtdisc
6:41 pmBryanThomasS:@sandrawickham Can't have one without the other, yes but literary stories do tend to emphasize character over complex plots #rdmwrtdisc
6:41 pmshadowflame1974:@inkhaven I do believe I would count LotR more plot driven while The Hobbit would be more character driven #rdmwrtdisc
6:41 pmcryssfox:@inkhaven almost any action/adventure or mystery and most mainstream films. Any of Cussler's Dirk Pitt books. #rdmwrtdisc
6:42 pmshadowflame1974:RT @cryssfox: @inkhaven the davinci code >> definitely plot driven #rdmwrtdisc
6:42 pmWulfie_:@shadowflame1974 I agree. #rdmwrtdisc
6:42 pmBryanThomasS:@inkhaven It's like comparing Star Wars and Huck Finn as coming of age stories. Huck is character, SW is plot. #rdmwrtdisc
6:43 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 I'm not sure on LOTR. A lot of the external journey is analogous to Frodo's internal struggle. #rdmwrtdisc
6:44 pmBryanThomasS:@inkhaven Except is it more about that character's motives and response to being forced or abt how circmstances control him? #rdmwrtdisc
6:44 pmTheTillMonkey:@shadowflame1974 s'pose we're treading on genre vs literary no-man's-land now.... #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pminkgorilla:Ooo! Plot v Character! #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pmshadowflame1974:@NateCrowder you definitely have to have the right char for a plot driven #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pmsandrawickham:@cryssfox: So, like James Patterson, Tom Clancy type stuff is plot driven, yes? #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pmpfallerj:@shadowflame1974 Definitely. I know who they are at the start, & what they'll end up as. Filling in the middle gets them there. #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pmshadowflame1974:@TheTillMonkey lol well it is random! #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pminkgorilla:it really is all intertwined, but I think if you have a really compelling character you can get away with thin plot. #rdmwrtdisc
6:45 pminkgorilla:and sometimes if you have a good plot, you can get away with thin characters.... #rdmwrtdisc
6:46 pminkhaven:@shadowflame1974 I guess I've never tried to write a plot-driven story, so I don't know how hard it is! #rdmwrtdisc
6:46 pmshadowflame1974:@inkgorilla I agree with both statements! #rdmwrtdisc
6:47 pmcryssfox:@sandrawickham Primarily. #rdmwrtdisc
6:47 pmshadowflame1974:@inkhaven for me it is a lot harder. #rdmwrtdisc
6:47 pmBryanThomasS:@inkgorilla Thin chracters are a hallmark of much SF unfortunately. #rdmwrtdisc
6:48 pminkgorilla:i see LOTR mentioned... is possible that most of it is Plot driven, but Frodo/Sam stuff in Two Towers is more character driven? #rdmwrtdisc
6:48 pmharrymarkov:@inkgorilla What is this #rdmwrtdisc ?
6:48 pmWulfie_:@TheTillMonkey No doubt. It does get murky sometimes. lol #rdmwrtdisc
6:48 pmshadowflame1974:@BryanThomasS why do you think that is? Is the potential of the future overpowering the characters? #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pmshadowflame1974:@harrymarkov just a random writing discussion ;) #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pmcryssfox:@inkgorilla I would agree with that. #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pminkhaven:@inkgorilla I think OSC called The Hobbit a "milieu" story, a 3rd catgry. Exploration of world more important than char or plot. #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pminkgorilla:@harrymarkov random writer discussion. join in! #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pmshadowflame1974:@inkgorilla I agree that most of the story outside of Sam/Frodo is plot driven. #rdmwrtdisc
6:49 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Well, with hard science, they get so focused and enamored with their science, they often forget the people. #rdmwrtdisc
6:50 pmharrymarkov:@shadowflame1974 I love this. How often do you do this #rdmwrtdisc
6:50 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 The same thing can happen with milieu stories and world building. #rdmwrtdisc
6:50 pminkgorilla:@inkhaven ahh, yeah, Middle Earth is certainly as much a char as anyone else #rdmwrtdisc
6:50 pmcryssfox:@BryanThomasS @shadowflame1974 And with cautionary they get caught up in their message and lose the characters. #rdmwrtdisc
6:51 pmWulfie_:@inkgorilla Think diff is all the chars are driven by external forces so have no choice but to act & in there is char change #rdmwrtdisc
6:52 pmsandrawickham:@inkgorilla: Re:LOTR I think of that as ex. of main plot vs subplots. (character subplots) #rdmwrtdisc
6:52 pmWulfie_:@inkgorilla @harrymarkov Oh is that what it stands for? lol Well, it's cool. #rdmwrtdisc
6:52 pmshadowflame1974:@harrymarkov it is the first one >.< #rdmwrtdisc
6:53 pminkgorilla:@Wulfie_ yeah motive is certainly ext, tho the distinct in F/S is that we *really* examine their response vs other chars in LOTR #rdmwrtdisc
6:53 pmsandrawickham:@Wulfie_ @inkgorilla Nice! #rdmwrtdisc
6:53 pmBryanThomasS:RT @TheTillMonkey: and what << BTS said! Scifi/fantasy/crime etc focus more on surroundings and details b/c the story arc is... #rdmwrtdisc
6:53 pmBryanThomasS:RT @TheTillMonkey: often more defined. Delving into characters' thoughts beyond important plot points is secondary.#rdmwrtdisc
6:54 pmWulfie_:S. King's work is a good example of mostly character driven stories. #rdmwrtdisc
6:55 pmshadowflame1974:@sandrawickham but is the main plot destroying the ring or discovering the inner self (Frodo/Sam)? #rdmwrtdisc
6:55 pmBryanThomasS:@inkgorilla Some of the characters in LOTR are richly developed but a lot are not so much. It varies. #rdmwrtdisc
6:55 pmsandrawickham:@shadowflame1974: Cardio done! :) Will check in again in a bit, see if you fine peeps are still chatting. #rdmwrtdisc
6:55 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 The main plot is the world being threatened. The character responses are subplots, I think #rdmwrtdisc
6:56 pmharrymarkov:@Wulfie_ I love Carrie as a perfect example of characterization and transformation of a MC #rdmwrtdisc [okay I love telekinetics too]
6:56 pmshadowflame1974:@BryanThomasS but can you imagine how long those books would be if they are all fully developed? lol #rdmwrtdisc
6:56 pmcryssfox:@shadowflame1974 @sandrawickham Grappling with evil in both the external and the internal world. #rdmwrtdisc
6:56 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Oh, of course. Not a criticism, merely an observation. #rdmwrtdisc
6:57 pmshadowflame1974:@BryanThomasS lol #rdmwrtdisc
6:58 pmshadowflame1974:...cont: often more defined. Delving into characters' thoughts beyond important plot points is secondary. #rdmwrtdisc
6:59 pmshadowflame1974:BTS said! Scifi/fantasy/crime etc focus more on surroundings and details b/c the story arc is... #rdmwrtdisc
6:59 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 LOL We both added that to the feed #rdmwrtdisc
6:59 pmshadowflame1974:TRs from @TheTillMonkey #rdmwrtdisc
7:00 pmshadowflame1974:no worries #rdmwrtdisc
7:00 pmRshunter88:I'd want to go inside char's head more in SF/F/Crime etc. because it adds more "reality" to the already fantastical world. #rdmwrtdisc
7:01 pmshadowflame1974:I often find it amazing how other writers "work" no one way is right for all #rdmwrtdisc
7:01 pmBryanThomasS:@Rshunter88 I'm the same way. Characters are what hook me. #rdmwrtdisc
7:02 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 That's why critiques can drive you nuts because all the opinions collide. #rdmwrtdisc
7:02 pmshadowflame1974:It depends on the book. If a character is well written, but the plot is soggy, I'm not going to be happy with it. #rdmwrtdisc
7:03 pminkgorilla:yeah, every writer and every reader has different ideas about what "works" -- and it changes for me dep. on my mood :) #rdmwrtdisc
7:04 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 Well definitely you need a plot of some kind. But I shy away from hard science in favor of character & plot. #rdmwrtdisc
7:04 pmBryanThomasS:@shadowflame1974 with an emphasis on the character's motivations, inner life, etc. how did they get here? why did they do that? #rdmwrtdisc

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