Getting “scarry-eyed” over complex characters

Rosie Crouch is a BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing student at the University of Nottingham. She finds herself writing mostly short stories, with a focus on the relationships between characters. She is also currently setting up a food blog. When she graduates in 2013, she hopes to begin a career in publishing.

Cats with thumbs – the cutest anomaly we’ve ever seen

I was two years old when I got the scar next to my right eye. One minute I was jumping on the top bunk of mine and my sister’s bed, the next, I was falling full-speed into the backrest of a wooden chair. At the hospital, my mum had to sit on my legs in order to keep me still for long enough for the doctor to treat the gaping hole in the side of my face. I have no memory of any of it, maybe because it was so traumatic that I’ve repressed it. Or maybe because… well, I was only two.

Either way, the story of its arrival is one I’ve told countless times, as though I remember it like yesterday. People sometimes seem embarrassed that they’ve asked, like they think I’ll be offended that they’ve noticed I have something that sets me apart from others. No way. I love my scar. Firstly, it proves I was a fearless two-year-old, and secondly, it looks like a crescent moon. Harry Potter, eat your heart out.

As Amy wrote earlier this week, our differences make us more interesting. In the same way, our interests, the things we love/hate/care about, are what make us fully rounded human beings. In the first year of my Creative and Professional Writing degree, one of the first things we were taught was to give each of our characters an anomaly – something about them that you would never expect in a million years. This is what plucks them up off the flat page and gives them life. It’s what makes them a pleasure to read. You might not want to read about just a normal eleven-year-old girl. But an eleven-year-old girl who can see into the future? Now that’s something else!

During my time here at Hot Key Books, I’ve done a lot of reading. It’s been heaven. Let me tell you, readers, there are plenty of delicious literary treats coming your way. Every story I’ve read here is jam-packed full of exciting plots, gripping conflicts and wonderfully intriguing characters. There truly is something for everybody, whatever your anomaly might be.

What do you think makes a story great? Are you a complex character lover, or do you prefer it when the plot does the talking? We want to hear what you think.

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10 responses to “Getting “scarry-eyed” over complex characters

  1. Ideally both, but If done right, an exciting, original plot with flatter characters beats interesting figures in tired surroundings. A recent film example, Cabin in the Woods.

  2. I’m not a big fan of plot. Strictly plotted novels typically speak of forced narration and deus ex machina running the story.

    There’s a story I heard about Alan Moore. It could be true, could be false. But I like to use it here. Halfway through the story, Alan Moore realized that although he loved Rorschach, Rorschach had to die. He would not compromise at the end of Watchmen, regardless of what Alan Moore wanted. So against his will Rorschach died.

    Most mediocre writer’s would have found a way for Rorschach to live in that situation using some crazy plot method of retribution and character change. There’s nothing wrong with character change of course, as long as it WOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.

    I prefer a sort of Ray Bradbury/Stephen King/many many many other’s approach to writing. To have a set of characters and a story, a situation, to sort of know where they are going, but to follow them and let them run the show.

    Now that’s not to say all books that are plotted are bad, or all writer’s who plot employ cardboard cutout situations and characters. I just prefer spontaneous and real character development, and typically that happens with much less plot and more character + story.

    After all, we all typically live pretty plotless lives. Even if a main character has magical powers, they can still be just as real to me as any person I’ve ever known.

    • Great comment. And there is a flipside of killing characters. That has to be real and right and ring true. I don’t like it when writers just off a minor character for body count and expect it to have impact. Death is a powerful thing and should be used in a powerful way.

      • Agreed!

        Another thing that irks me is the author *telling* me that I should be sad when some minor character or someone that wasn’t developed appropriately dies. Sort of like lots of boo-woo moments afterward, implying that the author is trying to force emotion when emotion isn’t going to be there. It’s the equivalent of telling me that two people fancy each other instead of SHOWING me.

  3. I’m all about the plot. But the plot could be the character’s personal journey. Takes a very good writer to make it captivating.

    I’m glad there’s a diverse range of tastes and opinions on what makes a good book. Variety is the spice of life!

  4. I have to say I agree with Christopher above that much less plot, but more character and their story can make for better reading. Having discovered the delights of Sarah Dessen’s work a few years ago, I’d have to now say that well-rounded and developed characters make a great story. I read my first Sarah Dessen (The Truth About Forever) five years ago now and I haven’t changed my favourite author since.

    Yet, if I was asked to describe the plot for each of her works I’d probably find it difficult. There would be a lot of mumblings about “personal journeys”. In other words, it is the characters’ personal journeys which drive the plots. Each of her works features a teenage female protagonist who undergoes a journey of self-discovery and comes out wiser, yet not in a patronising or cringe worthy way, and her novels have made more of an impact on me than the recent, and still brilliant in their own way, fantasy offerings by writers such as Lauren Kate and Becca Fitzpatrick. Whilst they had me riveted with their celestial tales, I have yet to discover a writer who can create better fiction out of mere reality. That’s not to say that a novel with a great plot twists isn’t going to captivate me whilst I read it, but no novel has stuck with me like Sarah Dessen’s.

    Recently, I’ve also read The Demon Trapper’s series by Jana Oliver which combines a brilliant, captivating plot with well-developed, loveable characters who grow tremendously over the four books. Ultimately, I think the proof is in what you like to read, but for me, whilst plot driven novels might captivate me on reading, character driven novels often remain with me for far longer, the characters refusing to leave my memory when the twists and turns of those enthralling plots have long seeped out of my brain.

    • Have you ever read anything by John Green? If Not I would highly recommend Looking for Alaska and A Fault in Our Stars.

      And yes, I seem to struggle to come up with a true “plot” for many of the books that I enjoy. I could come up with a premise, sure, or a synopsis, but I couldn’t really tell you what the PLOT is. Even if I could, it never seems to do the book justice.

  5. I haven’t, although I’ve seen a lot of great reviews about A Fault in Our Stars. I will put them on my “too read” list 🙂

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