Friday, March 5, 2010

More Character Based versus Plot Based

Last time I talked about Character Based vs. Plot Based stories and after a lengthy post, about all I did was define what they are. Today, I would like to revisit the topic and discuss the topic Rachelle Gardner’s reader originally asked about, are there differences in how we should address sagging middles with character based versus plot based stories.

To reiterate, a character based story is one in which extraordinary characters are thrust into the ordinary stuff the rest of us do every day. A plot based story is one in which ordinary characters who are like us are thrust into extraordinary circumstances. With character based stories, the conflict exists because the character isn’t prepared for the ordinary. In plot based stories, the conflict exists because the character isn’t prepared for the unusual stuff he faces. In plot based story The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is on a mission to get home, but between her and home is some of the strangest stuff you ever saw. In character based story Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, the children are very distinct in their personalities, and they too have a journey they must take to find home, but it’s the ordinary that they struggle with. Just getting enough money to buy food is a struggle for them.

One of the best ways to avoid sagging middles is to write to the midpoint. In the middle of the novel we should have either a high point or a low point in which it seems like the protagonist has either succeeded or failed, but then we turn it around and discover that his success isn’t so great or his failure isn’t so bad. In The Wizard of Oz, the midpoint of the book is exactly the point at which Dorothy and her company meet the wizard. To this point, we thought that if she could just get to the Emerald City, the wizard could send her home, so this seems like the point at which the book is about to end, but it turns out that the wizard has no power to send her home.

In both kinds of stories we need that high point to prevent sagging, but the nature of what constitutes that high point is different. In Homecoming, the midpoint finds the children in the home of family. In a way, it seems like they may have found a place to call home, but we discover that it isn’t for them. The high point is ordinary in nature, whereas the wizard was extraordinary in nature. The reason the midpoint solution in Homecoming is unsuitable has to do more with the internal conflict of the characters, while in The Wizard of Oz it is more external. So, when you get down to it, there really isn’t that much difference in how we handle a plot based story and a character based story when dealing with sagging middles. The rules of what makes a good story apply equally well to both.