Monday, June 22, 2009

Character vs. Plot? Or something else.

Vicki here, with 0.02 cents to add to the great debate.

It’s like Coke vs. Pepsi or Betty vs. Veronica or Kirk vs. Spock. The endless argument about which one is better: Character or plot. I come down hard on the character side, but I’d like to throw in a third option: Setting.

I have been known to choose books because of their setting, and only because of the setting. For example, that is how I first came to Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series, because I am interested in the far north. When I heard that Debby’s book, Fire Prayer, is set on Molokai, the most “Hawaiian” of the islands, I snapped it up and was not disappointed. I love wilderness and small town settings, probably because I like wilderness and small towns in real life. I love the quirky, modern British books set in towns and the countryside, such as those of Aline Templeton and Stuart Pawson.

Personally, I almost never read a book set in a big city. I’ve never considered why before. Perhaps because I find that most big cities are pretty much the same, and I don’t want to be in a city in my real life, so why would I go there in my fictional life? Exceptions? Sure. I have just finished 74 Miles Away by my Prince Edward County fellow author J.D. Carpenter. Great book, and I enjoyed it despite the fact that it is set in Toronto (although it does have a small scene in the County.) J.D. is working on a new book that is set in the County and I can’t wait for that one. Rick’s books are mostly set in Toronto, but I make an exception for his because the characters are always so wonderful. I wonder if Rick’s books could be called “Music-based”. Does anyone pick up Case of You and say “Oh, yeah. A book with jazz musicians. I’m in.”

Anything other than character/setting/plot? On a panel at Left Coast Crime someone told me her book was ‘background’ based. That was a new one. What she meant is that the most important thing in the book is the backstory. The excellent Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley might fall in that category.

Time period probably falls under setting, and I’d suggest that most historical novels are heavily setting based. My own Gold Digger simply would not work in any other time in any other place. When I got the germ of an idea for that series, the first thing I had was the setting: Dawson, Yukon in the gold rush year of 1898. I then populated the setting with characters and only then started working out the plot. I would guess Donis’s books evolved in the same manner.

Character/Plot/Setting/Backstory/Music. Pick your poison. It’s what makes crime fiction such a marvellous field.


Ann Parker said...

I'll cast my vote with you, Vicki, for setting. :-)

Donis Casey said...

I almost mentioned setting, and I wish I had and put it as well as you did. I'm very prone to chose a book for its setting.


When I'm selecting a book, setting doesn't even enter the equation. Yes, I have preferences. But if the writer's voice--or the character--grabs me in the first paragraph or two, I'm hooked and don't care about the locale.

Charles benoit said...

It's Diet Coke, Veronica and Kirk. It's also Ginger, the Marx Brothers, the Coyote and Conan O'Brien.

As for setting...that will take some thought, but I have a few of them brewing.