Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 3.5 An Interesting Discovery

I was going through my posts cleaning things up and discovered this incomplete post from NaNo 2009. Even though it's not complete, I thought I'd go ahead and hit the publish button. The tension between character-driven and plot-driven stories is still something I wrestle with.

There are many ways to divide people up. One way to divide writers is between those who write character-based stories and those that write plot-based stories. I have long wanted to be the former type, but have secretly feared I might be the latter.

Plot-based stories tend to be pretty exciting. Lots of things happen and the story keep moving along, but the characters don't necessarily change much and in the end you're left with something entertaining, but not necessarily meaningful. They're often the types of books or movies you enjoy once, but probably won't care to read/watch again.

Character-based stories tend to move a little more slowly. You get into the whys and wherefores so that learning the character's background and motivation--why the character is going what they're doing--is at least as important as what they are doing.

I have long enjoyed character based stories, particularly quirky characters like those in the works of P.G. Wodehouse's stories or Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. (For this I blame an early exposure to the works of James Blaylock and his friend Tim Powers.) I also particularly like (and this will expose the truly pedestrian nature of my tastes) the method of character reveal in some of the better anime like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. (Here I'm talking about the anime, I haven't read the manga yet.) I particularly like the reveal/transformation of Vash's character in Trigun.

But... I've long feared I lean more toward the plot-based type stories in my writing. Part of that, I think, just comes with maturity. When I was younger, it was all about the action. Also, I didn't like hurting my characters. (I think a lot of young writers start off writing Mary Sue type characters to some degree.) Having grown older, I can now appreciate implications of character that probably escaped me when I was younger.

So what does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo?

This story is more of a plot story and I'm having more trouble with it than last year. I spent half the book just leading up to the war when most adaptations of the Anabasis begin about the time Cyrus gets killed. Why did I do that? It's because there were all this cool interpersonal tensions between the generals and the Greeks and the Persians as well as the fact that Cyrus was obviously lying to them as he led them to Persia.

At this point the Greeks are marching towards home. They've just left Persia and are halfway through Kurdistan. Now don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of interpersonal conflict, but there's just so much more plot to get through. (Xenophon himself describes their trek through Kurdistan as seven days of non-stop fighting.)

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