Writing Notes: Character vs. Plot vs. Genre

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how character and plot have a somewhat different focus depending on the genre of a story. Yes, that’s a very subjective statement, but I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately too (fall season, you know), and from my perspective, it holds true no matter the medium – books, movies, TV series…the genre really seems to play a big part in whether the characters or the plot is in focus most often. But I also wonder if that’s not just my own filters talking, and everyone sees something different in focus.

With the lighter crime dramas (romantic suspense?) on TV (Castle, The Mentalist, Bones), the characters and plot seem more balanced to me, which is probably why it doesn’t bother me quite as much as other people when the two main characters have a long “push-pull” sort of romantic attraction that isn’t ever really fulfilled. While I think they could absolutely get the characters together and still make the show work (ala The Closer), I also sort of like the constant relationship tension that serves as a backdrop for the actual story being told that night (normally some sort of murder). There’s a line though that anyone who reads/writes any kind of romance at all can tell you about – a point in every relationship that once the characters cross it, it’s no longer plausible to keep them apart indefinitely (unless they go separate ways for good). Which is the problem with a lot of these shows – they don’t see the line coming, cross it, and then aren’t brave enough to take the necessary next steps.

I style my romantic suspense loosely on the same principles as those lighter crime dramas. You’ll notice my characters normally come to some sort of understanding in the middle of all the action (though they still have issues until the end of the book) – and that’s because I want my character story more balanced with the plot, rather than the romance overshadowing the suspense. And when I reach that “line” I mentioned above. I go ahead and take my characters across to explore the other side, rather than dancing around the issue.

In the heavier crime dramas (Criminal Minds, which is one of my favorite shows), I don’t mind a bit of character back story and drama, but I’m really there for the plot. Too much character drama just irritates me in shows like that – quirks are fine, but I don’t want that overreaching relationship focus that I like in the lighter shows. To me, this is more like an action/adventure flick – The Bourne movies and such, or a really good thriller novel. For these types of stories, I want the character stuff to be background – the plot is what I’m really into, and the tension created by someone or something *really really bad* being chased down by the good (or marginally good) guys. I try to style my thriller writing in the same way – the focus is more on the plot, and while I still need to get to know my characters and hopefully present them as real people with something to make us care about them, they are part of something much bigger, this huge problem or mystery that must be solved at great personal risk. The characters serve as sort of a delivery system for basic human emotions – fear and anxiety being right up at the top.

I haven’t even tried to write a straight romance story in a long time…but the obvious focus of a romance when I’m reading *must* be the characters. That’s what romance is, after all…a meeting of two hearts and all that entails. I have trouble writing those because while I like reading them, I get bored with writing character-focused stories. Interestingly, I don’t watch many romantic movies that don’t have something else going for them in the plot (suspense, or comedy of errors, etc). I get pretty bored with any TV show or movie that focuses solely on character relationships. It’s just not my thing.  

I guess basically what I’m saying is, I think genre has a lot to do with the focus of a story…and I think that’s one of the most basic things that defines genre. If we start digging deeper into our thriller characters and exploring their relationships, the story could turn into a romantic suspense. Conversely, if my characters in the rom. suspense novels stopped exploring their attractions and feelings so much, those stories could easily turn into thrillers. And a romance where the characters stepped back to share more of the spotlight with the plot would become something in the realm of “women’s fiction” or basic “literature”…it’s all very interesting, I think…

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One comment on “Writing Notes: Character vs. Plot vs. Genre

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    I LIVE for character-driven stories. I think that’s why I usually have the characters in my head before I know what happens to them.