Sunday, 19 July 2009

What makes a story memorable?

Most of you are presumably book lovers. I should hope you are, or you have no business writing. Of all the books you have gone through, there will be some that stick in your mind forever. Particular stories that when you think of them, make you want to smile or even better, pick it up and re-read it. What are those stories? What makes them memorable? Plot or characters? Of course the ideal thing is to have everything. Great plot, great characters. But does one contribute more than the other towards making it memorable? My personal belief is characters. I love the books with great plots, but when I think about think about a book long after I have read it, more often than not, I will think of particular characters. I may not remember all the details of a murder, but I remember Sherlock Holmes or Poirot. I may not remember how the whole cold-war scenario worked, but I remember James Bond. When I think of Little Women, I think of Jo and Laurie, and Meg and Amy. It is always the characters -the people who make the fiction real, and make it connect to the humanity within us that makes stories memorable for me. I have read a lot about character driven stories vs. plot driven stories. I do believe that they should be driven by both, but without excellent characters, I don't think a good plot by itself would be enough to make a book special enough to be remembered after I have read it already. What do you think? Do you consciously set out to make your story character driven or plot driven?


  1. I love character based stories. While I never intentionally set out to write my stories one way or the other, they always end up character based.


  2. Sometimes it's the characters, but I'm more of a plot person myself. Some of my favorite books of all time I'd have a really hard time naming a single character from, but I can tell you the plot from beginning to end (same with movies, actually). Most of those are adventure stories, of course - suspense and action and lots of things going on. There are some characters who are just too far outside "normal" for me to forget, but they're few and far between.

    That said, I don't intentionally set out to write either plot or character based stories. I try to balance it out between the two if possible.

  3. Jamie, I am glad you made quite opposite comment from Adam and I. It's quite fascinating really, how different things call out to different people.

    Even in action/adventure movies, I tend to like them because I like characters.

    TV Show for example - I dislike all CSIs because I don't really like any of the people, whereas I LOVE NCIS, because I simply love the team, especially Gibbs.

  4. I think TV shows have to be character driven though - the plots are over in an hour, so the characters are what keep people coming back (aside from the annoying cliffhangers at the end of the season). I recently gave up on the original CSI when Wm. Peterson left, so I suppose TV is the exception for me. I'm a huge Mark Harmon fan, so yeah, NCIS all the way (and Bones and House). ;-)

    I have watched TV shows for plot though, without caring much about the characters (Heroes & Lost for example). I lose interest as soon as the plot grows stagnant...sometimes faster than others (I don't watch either of those anymore).

  5. I'm definitely more character driven than plot driven when it comes to writing.

    And I totally agree with Lost Wanderer on NCIS vs. CIS :-)

  6. Jamie, while I would agree that if the plot went flat characters alone wouldn't sustain the story, personally I feel that no matter how great the plot, without appealing characters it wouldn't even last for a short time.

    Though from your blog, I understand you write romance novel. In that particular instance, I think plot does matter more. Of majority of romance novels I have read, I remember plots not characters. Perhaps because major romance houses like Harlequin do follow standard formula in their books, so all books have to meet certain criteria. So majority of time, it's going to be something different in the plot that will make that book stand out from other romance novels of the similar line.

  7. C R - definitely NCIS ;) Gibbs rocks!!