I picked up Plot vs Character because 1. I can’t resist a book about writing and 2. Everyone seems to recognize that characters need arcs, but very few people seem to explore how to make that happen.
I’ve read a good number of writing books, almost all of which essentially say “create character, put through the wringer, check they remain consistent to themselves.” Some talk about the hero’s journey, some about inner conflict, some about the Hollywood Formula. Few do a good job with the details that weave character and event together into a compelling story.
There are bits and pieces out there in some very excellent books. Characters & Viewpoint (Orson Scott Card) delves into what makes readers connect to characters and how to justify growth or change. In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell talks about LOCK (lead, objective, conflict, and knockout) and the three-act structure. That provides a basic framework for a character arc, but even when I put these resources together, I don’t develop a deep or thorough understanding of the steps to filling in that framework.
Enter Plot vs Character. Jeff Gerke puts it all together for us, in an easily-understood manner. He is well organized and detailed; I was able to follow the material without the mental gymnastics some theoretical books require. I found myself thinking of ways to apply my new understanding to my work in progress while reading, which is one of the best indicators of valuable practical information.
For me, the last 3/4 of the book was the most useful. I was concerned when I first began the book, as the first 20 pages outlined the author’s argument for using his book. I found the tone slightly condescending and the argument itself repetitive; having already bought the book, I would rather be convinced by the information itself.
However, once I got into the meat of the book, things went from good, to better, to great. I have little trouble coming up with characters to play with, so the section on building characters from the ground up was too restrictive and time-consuming for me to use as presented, but it was far from worthless. The segments on inner journey and how to integrate it with external events were excellent. The discussion of the climax and denouement cleared up several things for me, and I was finally able to see and remedy several weak spots in King’s Mark.
All and all, a worthy read, and a useful reference for the future.