A recent discussion among readers on a public forum on mysteries (DorothyL) regarding two of the elements of a novel⎯character and plot⎯showed a strong a preference for character over plot. Most readers admitted they remembered a character long after the plot was forgotten.
One or two comments were made about a book’s settings, and none about good writing, which needed no mention. Good writing stands as a necessity for novels, like—saying, “Please,” and “Thank you,” stands a necessity for good social manners.
However, the discussion on DorothyL left me with the thought that plot and settings were short-changed as to their importance in a novel. It did not square up with a personal belief that plot and settings in a novel are essential cornerstones for character development, for building a bond with the reader.
We form opinions and develop feelings about people in real life based on what they do, what they say, and how they physically and emotionally act or react in situations from the mundane to the dire. It can be said this tableau of everyday life represents the plot and settings of an individual’s life.
While opinions and feelings about an individual become strongly felt and held, all the details of that individual’s everyday life that led to the formation of an opinion and feelings about them will not be remembered. Is the process not the same when reading a novel?
Everyone who reads has a list of fictional characters that resonates in their mind, as real as a next-door neighbor. And if it’s a character is featured in a series, the next book becomes a “must-read,” generating the same anticipation as the opportunity to meet again with an old friend.
One example for me is Margaret Maron’s series featuring Deborah Knott. The first one, BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER, was published in 1992. I remember the highlights of Deborah’s life as portrayed in the novels, from a young single lawyer running for the position of district judge to her current status as judge, wife, and stepmother. But no way do I remember all the plots and settings of seventeen books, published over nineteen years.
It is a personal belief that my opinion and feelings held regarding this fictional character grew out of the same process as for real people, one based on based on what she did, what she said, and how she physically and emotionally acted or reacted in situations from the mundane to the dire.
Without the plot and settings, the tableau of every-day life, there would be no milieu in which the persona of the character could be revealed to the reader. It’s like the song tells us about love and marriage. They go together like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the others.