I don’t often participate in bookish memes anymore, but this week’s question over at Booking Through Thursday sent me sliding down a thought spiral, so I thought I’d post a bit about my conclusions. Here’s this week’s question:
“Which is more important when you read — the actual story or the characters? I’ve read books with great plots, but two-dimensional characters, and I’ve read multi-layered characters stuck in clunky stories, and I’m sure you have, too. So which would you rather focus on, if you couldn’t have both?”
I’ve said before that I’m largely interested in language and character, followed by setting, with plot or action as probably the lowest aspect in the hierarchy of what I’m looking for when I read. Now, don’t get me wrong: all these aspects are important, and if an author lets any one of them languish, it can ruin an otherwise perfectly enjoyable book. But in general, I’m not as plot-centric a reader as manyI know.
So it’s probably rather easy to guess which aspect – plot or characters – I would rather focus on if, as the question stipulates, I couldn’t have both. I’d choose the characters most every time.
An analogous situation that feels appropriate for me: Would you rather attend a party with wonderful food, excellent atmosphere, great music and enjoyable entertainments but at which all the other guests are deeply unpleasant people? Everything about the setting of the party and the action of the evening is great, but your choices for conversation or dance partners are self-centered jerks, boors who spend more time staring into the screen of their phone than actually looking you in the eye, drunken louts who shout and spill things on your nicest outfit, people gossiping in a very rude fashion about other guests and some guy who crashed the party hoping to round up more rubes for his latest pyramid scheme. I’ve got to say that no matter how beautiful the decorations or how divine the canapés, I’m not going to enjoy myself at this theoretical party.
On the other hand, let’s say the host has had a few setbacks setting up this soirée. His sister offered to whip up the food, and she’s prone to over-salting everything. The sound system cuts out, the air conditioning dies (on a balmy summer night,) and the only entertainment is an old game of Monopoly with half the pieces missing. But your fellow party-goers are awesome people. They’re easy-going about the party’s failures, they’re funny, articulate and know how to actually listen, as opposed to just talk. You make the best of the evening and have a lot of fun despite the less-than-eventful situation, because you’re in great company.
I would much rather find myself at the second hypothetical party, hanging out with awesome characters, than suffer through the first party, miserably stuffing my face with delicious hors d’oevres while surrounded by terrible characters. Great characters can make a lousy party, er, plot worthwhile, whereas no amount of exciting plot can distract me from flat, boring characters.
P.S. I hate parties. I am not a party girl. Nope nope nope.