Thursday, July 21, 2016

Character Or Story?

The classic conundrum any writer faces is whether to make the story or the characters the central focus of our work.  Do we want a fantastical adventure where our characters are merely along for the ride, or do we want great characters that find themselves in the middle of extraordinary events?

There are great examples of both sides of this coin throughout literary history.  In The Shining, Jack Torrence is built up as the everyman who succumbs to both ghosts and alcoholism to find himself in the middle of a ghost story at the Overlook Hotel.  At the other end of the spectrum, the saga of the Galactic Empire after the Battle of Endor involves dozens of characters who, although mostly familiar to us, are vehicles through which Timothy Zahn tells an epic space opera.

As always, most stories find a balance either way, but it really got me thinking and looking back at my own work.  Some of what I’ve written – Salvation Day, Wrongful Death – is extremely character based.  The story has no relevance without the main character.  Others – Homecoming, Schism – are meant to convey a story where the central characters are fungible.

To me, it comes down to what I want to tell, and even that can be dependent on the moment.  Did the character come to me first, or the story idea?  As it evolved, which became more prominent.  In my own experience, I’ve found it more likely for my characters to develop into a story than for my story to develop into my characters.  Maybe it’s just me.

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