Which is more important Story or Character?
I was having a discussion with my dad a while back that centered around flash fiction. He was immediately against it as a type of literature primarily because it would be impossible to develop a character with a limit of one thousand words. At first, I was surprised by my dad’s reaction, but I thought about it as we continued our discussion. At first, I tried to compare flash fiction to poetry, as both are intended to express extremely brief ideas. Though he sidestepped that point talking about how good poetry has to have many different layers.
Since I’m not extremely well versed with poetry, I immediately dropped that argument. I eventually made stated that a good story will carry weak characters. That is where I began to sway my dad to the benefits of flash fiction. I still think he is holding his final decision on flash fiction until he starts to read my take on the style of writing. However, I really began to think about my stance on the importance of the story over its characters.
When my dad began to change his opinion, he thought about his dad’s literary collection. He remembered the high adventure stories that graced those shelves and realized that they were all great stories, but the characters were not the best characters in the world.
I remember hearing somewhere that all prose can be boiled down to seven plots and I remember being shocked at first. Though as I thought about it, I began to realize that its right. So what differentiates the almost countless stories that exist? And if so how can I stand and make my argument that the story is what gives a work its weight.
It only took me a moment to answer my own question. There may just be seven primary threads when it comes to storytelling, but with those threads, a storyteller is able to make a grand tapestry. It all comes down to how the plots are interwoven and layered upon each other. Just because there are only seven base plot lines does not mean that a single story can only have one plot line. Most novels there is a single significant plot but several complementary plot lines. The great authors are able to weave these base ideas to form fantastic verbal tapestries.
Outside of a work’s plot, there is the interaction between the characters, their dialogue that will add to a story’s importance. Notice I’m not talking about the characters themselves, instead of how they interact with each other. Poor characters can still have fantastic interactions which help to improve the overall storyline.
At this point I want to make something very clear, I am not arguing that authors or storytellers should make shallow characters. In fact, the best works manage to have a vibrant story and well-rounded characters. All I’m saying is that they are not as crucial to a particular work as the story that brings them to life. To me, it comes down to this simple fact: the story is what drives the tale, it transports the characters that grace the pages.