Are you plot driven or character driven?
Last week on Friday Coffee Chat, we talked about book bullying. Most of us admitted that we tend to be nosy about what people read and sometimes judge people by what they read, but we rarely vocalize it. I think it was a fairly eye opening conversation for me, and I feel like I learned a lot. This week, Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading is talking about reading out of your comfort zone. Head over to her blog after you are done commenting here to let her know if you have ever ventured out of your reading comfort zone!
This week on Friday Coffee Chat I wanted to talk about something that I’ve been noticing about the books that I tend to enjoy. For four months this year, I read Middlemarch with my friends Ellie and Lydia from The Literary Lollipop. This book was huge and not much really happened in it. The book was largely about the people in Middlemarch and how society functioned at the time. Now, I know there are TONS of Jane Austen fans, but she largely falls in the same category. Lots of characters, but not a lot of plot. The characters undergo some transformation during the book, but it doesn’t take a war, tragedy, or any other huge event for these characters to have a huge impact on us. I say that these books are character driven and largely introspective. The books talk about the human condition or are social commentaries, but the plot can play second fiddle to the characters themselves.
After finishing the book, I felt so conflicted. I liked it. It challenged me to think in so many different ways, but quite frankly, it was boring for large parts of the book. A lot of people complain about Oprah’s Book Club choices to fall into the same pit of misery. The books are about the characters change, not necessarily the plot. After finishing Middlemarch, we decided to pick up The Count of Monte Cristo for a read-a-long which is VERY plot driven. Who hasn’t heard of Edmond Dantès quest for revenge against Fernand Mondego—the man who had him falsely imprisoned for many years? It’s such a popular story that is has been made into several movies. It’s exciting. There is plotting, revenge, swordfights, and the transformation of the characters is external rather than introspective. I am excited to read it because it is so plot driven and is so much more exciting to read than Middlemarch was.
All this got me thinking about what kind of reader I am. I tend to be a plot driven reader. I mostly read books where the plot is a huge factor. The journey in the book tends to override any changes the characters go through themselves. I like action in my books and I like it to be frequent! I do enjoy that the characters learn from whatever conflict happens in the book, but it’s the plotting, revenge, etc. that keep me turning the pages of books. The character driven books are usually more of a chore for me even if I do enjoy them in the end. I’ll even admit that these are the books that tend to have lasting impact on my life.
For example, take Sophie’s Choice by William Styron: nothing good ever happens to poor Sophie and you don’t find out why until later in the novel when you learn what her choice is. The book was torture because the entire time I just wanted to shake the woman and tell her what a huge mistake she was making with Nathan and say how out of control she was. I hated almost every moment of the book, but it has had this incredible lasting impact on me because it was SO character driven. The book was about Sophie and why she ended up the way she did. In some ways, the plot with Nathan was fairly incidental because the epiphany in the book was just on a few short pages. Those few short pages were so profound that the book is lasting (same thing in Middlemarch—the epiphany was one sentence on the last page). However, these books are just few and far between for me because I find them such a task to read.
I will go so far as to say that for every 30 books I read, I may only read one character driven book. Should I change my habit? I don’t know. I definitely have opened myself up a whole lot in the last two years as to what I will read, but I still maintain that the plot driven books are the ones I enjoy most even if the character driven ones tend to be lasting in my memory.
So, my questions for readers this week is:
- What kind of reader are you: Plot driven or character driven?
- Do you like books that have a good combination of both plot and character development or do you normally pick one over the other?
- Do you get frustrated that other people might not understand your book choices?
- What is your favorite book(s) that is/are plot driven and/or character driven?