Last night, we had a big group of photographers over for Christmas cookies, cider, and punch. Merry times were had by all, but when everyone left, Erik passed out of exhaustion, and the kitchen was semi-clean again, I was left sugar-high and unable to sleep. I did what I've done since childhood when I can't sleep, which is to replay my favorite stories in my head, to move my favorite characters into new storylines, to imagine it all playing out differently and then imagining it playing out exactly as it already had.
I started thinking about why I loved some stories and why I had absolutely no interest in some stories that everyone else seemed to love. And it broke down to a very simple concept, which I'm sure is not new. In Googling, the concept is certainly one that's been talked about by writers and readers. But we never discussed it in all my English classes at JMU, which is kind of a shame because I love the idea. Stories are either plot-driven or character-driven. And I think people naturally favor one over the other.
It's kind of why you might be able to watch the same romantic comedy archetype over and over again but be entertained every time. Because you haven't seen THESE characters fall in love yet. Your husband/boyfriend/whoever can say "you KNOW how it's going to end" and he'll be absolutely right, but it doesn't matter because it's a story about characters not plot.
Me, personally, if you follow this blog or know me at all you probably already realize I'm a character lover. It's why, as crazy as Lost may have become, I was on board 100% from pilot to finale, because I adored those gritty, complicated characters. And I think Lost proved to TV writers that a lot of people enjoyed that complexity because there's been an explosion of stories with fascinating, dubiously moral characters since then.
Every story I love has rich, complicated, authentic characters. By authentic, I mean authentic to who THAT person is. The beauty and wonder of Breaking Bad is that every step of Walter White's dissent into BAD is believable. When this high school teacher decides to start a meth lab, we think YEAH that's a great idea, if I were you I'd do exactly the same thing! Because his character is so well-established and his rationale is so true to who he is. That's why I love Walter White, Dr. House, Sawyer, John Locke, Miss Parker, Claire and Jamie Fraser, Severus Snape, Dexter and Deborah Morgan, every woman in Orange is the New Black.
I think this obsession with character stories is why I don't love movies as often as I love TV shows. I think movies have more of a tendency to be plot-driven with a beginning, middle, end. And when a story is so focuses on getting to that end, a lot of times the character development is lost along the way. The main characters fall in love for no reason at all, they just start kissing because he's a guy and she's a girl and that's just what happens. And I can't bring myself to buy that. Erik and I were watching Edge of Tomorrow last weekend and while it was pretty decent (for a PLOT-BASED story! :P), I literally groaned when the main characters kissed after knowing each other for one day. Just, no. That didn't make sense for either character.
But there are great stories that are plot-driven. Game of Thrones comes to mind. Yes there are lots of characters, but that's exactly why the character development can only be but so much. There are SO many characters to establish that you can't go as in-depth into them all. That story is based on the twists and turns of plot, the sudden murder of _____, the changing sides of _____. It's called Game of Thrones because it's about this strategic game everyone is playing. And people watch because they need to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
If you like the CSI, Law & Order, mystery-solving type shows, those are plot-driven. Old-fashioned whodunnit style which people have loved for ages.
I think the magical stories are the ones that are equally propelled by plot and by character. They're the ones that so many people love because it appeals to both preferences. It's easy to identify these for me because Erik leans toward plot stories while I love the character ones.
Harry Potter is a great example. Strong characters who act like they should within a strong, important plot. Breaking Bad, the first TV show that Erik and I BOTH loved. Lord of the Rings (which I actually personally don't love as much as the rest of the world, and I think that's because it's huge lack of female presence makes it really hard for me to relate or care about any characters... so actually maybe LOTR is not a great example). Dexter, where our main character is this sympathetic serial killer who could be caught at any time by his police detective sister who's trying to solve his crimes. Outlander, whose main characters are probably the most realistic couple I've ever seen portrayed in a story, who fight, disagree, and yet perfectly complement one another without losing their own selves. There's always this simultaneous adventure occurring that keeps you in suspense and keeps the stakes of the story high.
So which type are you? Plot or character? What are your favorite stories and how do they connect to that idea? I'm feeling academic today, can you tell? ;)