Thursday, August 23, 2007

So what's the story about anyway?

I was trying to decide between three different things to blog about today, and would have had this done last night if I could make up my damn mind. Sheesh.

So I decided on story goals because it's a good segue from Paty's character arc blog. When a character takes his or her story journey, we expect change to happen, for them to grow, learn a lesson, become who they're meant to be. But that's just one purpose of a story. The plot has a goal as well. Or does it?

You've heard of the A plot vs. B plot, or Inner Story vs. Outer Story. That's what I'm talking about. The character's journey (i.e. arc) verses the story itself. It's interesting that in most cases a romance novel appears to be more about the hero and heroine's journey than about the plot. That's cool, though I have to admit I'm not a fan of those stories. I want MORE. I want the bigger book, the whole enchilada, the groundbreaking, mind-bending plot that glues me to the pages with more than just fabulous characters who twist my emotions into knots. My expectations are skyscraper-high and I rarely find a good book that meets them.

When I do, I kind of use it as a measuring stick against all books that come afterward. I'm almost finished with one right now and it's so refreshing after nearly a year of searching to find a book to satisfy my fussy reading requirements. But you know what? The plot goal in this story focuses almost a hundred percent on the A Plot, the main character's inner story. In spite of it not meeting my rigid big-book standards, this is a wonderful story that has me by the throat and won't let go.

So what is it about this book that grabs me? It's not a romance, but it's most definitely character driven. It's about one character who's terribly conflicted and carries such an enormous trunk of tragic history on her back that you can't help but feel sympathetic. She's in training to be a superhero. She's running from the shadow agents trying to kill her. Her survival and superherohood is the plot and she's so deeply flawed that she can't save anyone let alone herself, but she's tough as granite and kicks ass like nobody's business. The fate of the world does not rest on her shoulders because she's a neophyte member of a well-established group of superheroes, who are responsible for the survival of the entire human race.

I'm just pleased to have found this book about a wonderful character who's not at the center of the world's very survival. At least not in this book. This is the first in a series, and this character is so intriguing, so spellbinding, that I don't care if there is a plot. It takes a backseat to who she is and the fascinating world she lives in. Her flaws are what make her so appealing. I've never read anything like it, and I have the second book in the series to start on next. But I just thought it interesting how one book can change your "rules" about what you like and don't like to read. That probably goes for genres, too. The book I'm talking about here is The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson. It's an urban fantasy, a genre that's not yet in the mainstream but should be. Give it a try. You might like it.

So what do you think about the A Plot vs B Plot scenario? Do good books have to have both? Does yours?


Paty Jager said...

To me a good book has both. The character plot and the story plot. It makes for a well-rounded reading experience. I know one of the first erotica books I stumbled into had no plot. None that I could find and I quit reading at chapter four. Gratuitous sex is not a good read. Then I read another one a few months back (thinking it was an RS) anyway, it had more plot to it than the first one I read, but still there wasn't enough to make it a thrilling read for me. I did finish the darn thing only because I was hoping for closure on the suspense part and that closure never really came. :(

But some of the Nora books I love don't really have a whole lot of story plot, it is all character plot. How the two fall in love and the course of the courtship. I've read those several times just because they make me smile.

So I may be more of a character driven reader, but the books I write have pretty equal character and story plots. It's through the story that the characters show their true selves by the conflicts that arise. And not just the conflict between characters, but the circumstances they encounter.

I'm sure the book you are reading is good, but as you know, I'm not a huge fan of that kind of stuff. And that's what makes the world go around, everyone having different tastes.

Interesting blog, Karen.

Karen Duvall said...

Paty, great points. 8^) Yep, a story usually has to have both to get me excited. And I know the book I'm reading is out there, but the character dynamics are so strong that it's worth crossing the genre boundaries for. But I do agree, our differing tastes is what makes the world go round. I've tried reading erotica, too, and I just get bored. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Like the two of you, I like a book with both. I love deep characters, but there has to be a sound plot too.

And I have to chime in about the erotica stuff I've tried to read. Uck! It's all sex driven, nothing else. I've not found one yet that gives my brain any intellectual stimulation. I have a great sex life and don't get any thrills from erotic romance. I just don't get the draw that it has on others.

The series you're reading sounds very interesting Karen. I'll have to check it out. Is it mostly an adult book or could my teenagers (15 and 14) read it? They don't like to read sexual situations, but they love a great story. Do you think this would be appropriate for them?

Karen Duvall said...

There's one love scene early on, but it's not gratuitous. In fact, I skimmed over it because I was bored. 8^) Other than that, I think your teens would enjoy the story. It's pretty sophisticated for a kid but the writing's beautiful and I think they'd benefit from the book's message.

wavybrains said...

Sorry that I've been scarce the last few days. Piper, thanks for an excellent summary of the speakers--sorry I didn't get a chance to comment.

Karen, I've been wrestling with this same question. I think a good book generally has both--but the balance is unique to each book. The key is finding that balance.

Also, there is something to be said for market concerns. I tend to dream up character plots--but even category books have cut way back on these. There's a real push for more external plot, more conflict, more tension.

I want to sell. I truly do. So, I've pushed my WIP to have more story plot, but I also feel like the character plot might suffer under the weight of all that action. Again, it's about finding the balance.

And as several people pointed out, perhaps I need a break from my WIP before I can find that balance.

Karen Duvall said...

Yep, Wavy, I agree with you about balance. Sometimes, though, you don't really find it until you're well on your way through the book, and that's okay. I wouldn't stress too much about it.

As far as marketability, the UF market is definitely about plot-driven stories, yet you'll find that most of these books run the gamut and each has its own place. Vicki's style is unique, IMO. She does a great job of weaving a very simple plot with a highly complex character. I think it's fabulous.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Interesting blog, Karin.

For me, character IS plot. Without strong characters, even the most intricately woven (and interesting) plots fall flat. I know that's not true for some, but for me it is. That said, I think the whole plot A vs. plot B thing is sort of determined by the genre you write. In a romantic suspense, for example, the romance (internal conflict/romance) can't exist without the external suspense plot. That is, by definition, a romantic suspense. Take one away, and the other falls flat, even though the amount of suspense vs. romance can vary greatly within the genre. Other genres (I've read) tend to be quite different. JR Wards vamp books, for example, are paranormal romances with a suspense thread woven steadily through. However, the books are first and foremost romances with the internal conflicts driving the stories. That external suspense thread (external plot) of the war between the vampires and the bad guys is there, but it's not the driving force of the story. And in fact, in her books so far, that external plot has very little to do with the developing romance except as an outside "threat" that's always hanging.

Genene said...

Urban fantasy, huh? These sound intriguing. I like a book with both character and external plot. Books that seem to be mostly character driven must have incredibly interesting characters to keep me from wanting to smack them up-side the head about the third time they anguish over the same thing.

I generally stick to romances or books with strong romantic elements, as they say, because I do want the happy ending. Other than that, I don't really have "rules" about what subgenre I pick up. I've had some nice surprises with books that I wasn't sure would be good reads.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Everytime I see Eli reference JR Ward's books I giggle a little. Muhahahahaha! So proud of the conversion :p

Like most of you, I like a mix between characters and plot. I've noticed it's changed over time though. It used to be much more about the plot to me, as a reader. But also, as a writer I'd come up with a plot and work the characters in to fit.

Now I find myself loving books the most that have great characters and not the most interesting plots. I'm also finding that trying to brainstorm plot hasn't been helping me with my WIP, I think I need to focus on the characters more and the plot will come with it.

I just finished two amazing books that had super interesting charactesr and good plots, but nothing mind-blowing or amazing and new. They are Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Get What You Want by Kathy Love. The characters are so great.

Great post Karen! Glad you found a book you love :)