A New Year with a New Thing

Since I can now add polls , I thought I’d start 2009 with one!

When reading a story, what do you think is the most important element?  Is it good characters, a great plot or a compelling setting? Obviously all three are desirable, but this is all about making a choice.

Can good characters overcome an average universe? Does an interesting storyline compensate for medicore characters? Does a world spun with imagination sweep away lacklustre plotting?

You decide! Please feel free to explain your vote in the comments section.

Published in: on January 2, 2009 at 10:18 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Whilst a nice balance of all 3 is the ideal for me the plot is generally the most important element. I find a decent overall plot– an interesting premise, resolution and consequences– narrowly edges out whether or not the characters are especially well done.

    I admit this is perhaps more pertinent to genre novels rather than general literature.

    Whilst I appreciate a cool setting, I find it does detract far too much if every other page is a diversion into the intricacies of the worlds geopolitics or even, god forbid, page after page of tortuous poetry. Especially elven poetry. No names mentioned there though !

    That said I think well written characters can lift a tale– when you actually look at the plot of the (original) Dragonlance books it’s quite easy to tell that the plot was lifted from/for their own RPG campaign. But it works as the setting but especially the characters ( for me anyway) are well written and all have their own voices.

    You’ll note though that the book is plotted well enough that the story would still have worked with other blander characters.

    Either way I wouldn’t worry Mr. Thorpe, you seemed to nail it perfectly in Malekith !


  2. Whist a ripping yarn can distract you from the fact the characters engaged in the action are two-dimensional, the poorly written characters can stop one from caring about what is happening, especially if you feel there is no explanation for why they are doing what they are doing.

    Conversely, well rounded characters can make you care about what they are doing, even if what they’re doing isn’t spectacular.

    Well, theoretically, anyway. I still love a ripping yarn!


  3. Flash bastard. I’m abstaining. And the poll results currently adds up to 101%, which I find worrying.


  4. Much of the classic science fiction of the 20th century was driven by plot rather than characters. Plot has my vote.

    That said, the true giants of that time period, the likes of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, had literature with superb plot and excellent characters.


  5. I voted for plot, mostly because in my experience plot and character tend to be linked, and it’s hard to completely tear one apart from the other.

    Then between plot and character… characters that are fascinating but do nothing of interest still get boring, or can, if deprived of plot. Plot without character is still dry, but seems more entertaining, at least in the short-term.

    Setting seems of secondary importance in comparison, not a creature to survive on its own for long, but if the setting is without detail it still detracts from the story, and it can be the difference between a good book and a great book.



  6. Characters for me. For the same reasons as Topiary mentions.

    You do want a good plot too but it’s engaging characters that keep you ‘caring’ about what happens.

    The setting is often filled out with the characters, especially the ‘bit parters’ who can give you a strong ‘feel’ for the world they inhabit by their actions, words and roles within their environment.

    A well crafted setting is brought to life by the people/critters inside it.

    So definitely the characters for me.

    Oh… and happy new year.


  7. thought-provoking — as is the resulting discussion. fun ride, as always


  8. They’re all important qualities, but I’ve gone with characters – if you’re reading a book which includes characters from other books, either from being in a series or a franchise, then a character you know and like is often more of a selling point than the plot or setting; they’re also the major reason I would re-read a novel.


  9. I think most readers come to a book hoping for an emotional experience. So I’m sticking with a comment I made in the BL forum: Action (or plot) without emotion is little more than stage direction. And I think characters are the primary means of evoking emotion in a reader.

    That said, you could argue that characters in conflict are the real source of an emotional experience. And that conflict is realized through plot.

    Maybe this is a chicken/egg question. Character is revealed through action, which is a product of plot, and therefore neither is more important than the other? Mm. May need to rethink my character vote…


  10. […] Comes First? I’ve been looking at the poll results with interest, and reading your comments as well. First of all I’ll muse a bit on these and […]


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