Plot vs. character
- 'The Mystery Writer's Handbook' (two editions, 1956 and 1976) is a
highly interesting work, even if you have no intention to write a
mystery novel or don't need any advice for it, because it gives a
look at some of the most prestigious writers's methods, recipes and
opinions towards the genre they illustrate. Some articles are
particularly delightful, especially Fredric Brown's contribution
about how to find an idea.
A recurring debate is about the driving element of a story: plot or
character. No surprisingly, most of the writers who let characters
drive their stories also are the weakest plotters: Joe Gores, Dorothy
B. Hughes, John D. McDonald, to name just three, have never produced
plots of some rememberable quality.
These writers assert that characteriztion is necessary to reader's
enjoyment, and in some way it's true, but it never will redeem a bad
story. On the other hand, a very good story can make pass a cardboard
characterization. Writers who pretend reader can't enjoy a story
unless it has Henry James-level characterization simply take their
own tastes for being everyone's.
Sadly, that approach seem to be the rule now, and that's probably why
contemporary mysteries are so poor in plotting. TV shows have
particularly suffered of that. Following the 'Hill Street Blues'
pattern, shows like 'NYPD Blue' spend more time with characters's
agonies than with investigation of the crime. They surely are
melodramas, but not mysteries. The only current TV show with some
plotting value is, in my view, 'aw & Order'.
I have joined this club a while ago ( Hi Wyatt and Nick), but with
many clubs and not much to say, I have been silent. However, at this
point I have to say I totally agree with Xavier. I go further saying
that today, many people are writting stories that have crimes in it -
and so they call it a mystery. Bah. They obviously do it because,
being labeled a mystery it will sell, while if it were a mainstream
novel it wouldn't.
A plot is essential in a true mystery; maybe less so in a thriller or
suspense novel, where you may just keep pilling up things and events
on top of your character. Still, in the end, it's a story that one is
telling and to be a story, it needs that events happen, people think
and do things - that is: a plot.
As you may suspect by my handle, I'm a fan of John Dickson Carr (if
you people haven't, drop by fansofjohndicksoncarr here at yahoo
groups ). The G doesn't stand for Gideon, though.