Short Stories

Writing: Characters or Story?

Hi! Those of you who read my book reviews know I read The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr. It got me thinking about characters. Will Storr writes that characters are the most important part of any story because we are empathic creatures who want to understand how other people think, what will happen to them, and how they survive despite their flaws and the odds stacked against them. We have this underlying need to understand anything and everything. He writes that the plot comes second only after interesting human characters (read flawed characters. Perfect characters are boring.)

What do you think? Are characters the most important part of a story or the setting or the plot?

I read The Darkness That Comes Before by Scott R. Bakker, and after reading the book, I agreed with Will Storr that characters are one of the most important part of any story. They are who we relate to. The lack of multidimensional characters with personality made the book boring and the story irrelevant. But then again, I have read books where the characters have come first, but there is no process or change happening, making the whole book pointless. All this makes me think compelling characters with flaws engage us, but there needs to be some kind of reason for their actions, or at least this is so for me. I know some readers prefer books portraying mundane tasks being fulfilled and hearing the protagonist thoughts behind them, but I’m not sure I have seen such books in the fantasy genre. I have read several science fiction books with mundane tasks being done by the protagonist, but often enough they are filled with science fiction elements, asking questions is this where we are heading or is this possible and what if? Those little questions make a huge difference. The story needs to be engaging, provoke thoughts and our imagination, and all together make us curious.

But Will Storr is right. Compelling characters trap the imagination of the reader. If you as a writer get them right, the story unfolds as an interaction between your characters, making their lives, thoughts, and struggles come alive to the reader. But should world-building and plotting be forgotten? I would say no. Those satisfy our curiosity and enchants the situation the characters have been put into. As always, balance is important. The reader should have a clear picture of what kind of world the characters are living in and what kind of constraints they experience in their day-to-day lives, but I think the world should come through the eyes of the characters. As we readers are like tiny aliens inside them spying and experiencing everything through their eyes, ears, touch, thoughts, mouth, nose, and why not through some spooky six sense which sees other dimensions or physics unfold? We need that character to show us and tell us what is important and what isn’t.

All this makes me think that as a writer I should put more effort into my characters. To give them believable flaws. Show the reader how they think they can control the world around them. Ask questions like what makes them vulnerable? But give them something the reader can relate to. Some small thing the reader can like as unlikable characters doesn’t draw the reader in. In my first book, one reader commented that while she likes my characters, she wouldn’t want to be any of them, and I’m not sure if to take that as a compliment or something to improve. I rather take it as the latter. I think I should create characters readers can fall in love with despite their flaws. That love even for one character will engage the reader more than hate can.

Anyway, happy writing and reading, and thank you for reading my post! Have a nice day ❤

© K.A. Ashcomb

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