I attended the first in a new series of literary events at the Bloomsbury Institute last night, focused on how to plot the perfect murder mystery. Speakers included James Runcie, Anne Zouroudi and Claire McGowan.
Interestingly, the talk evolved into a popular debate about Plot vs. Character. I am constantly telling new writers that a clever plot is not enough. Character is so important. We need to relate to and empathise with your characters in order to invest our time in your stories.
The impact of the crime on the characters is as strong as the plot. If you look at the popularity of the Danish TV series, THE KILLING, it’s because we were so invested in the characters’ lives that we wanted to spend hours and hours in front of it. THE KILLING, SERIES 2 didn’t do as well because it was more plot-led rather than character-led.
Morality and the impact of the crime are just as important as plot. James Runcie made the clever point that ‘Whydunit?’ counts just as much as ‘whodunit?’ The plot is the framework but when people think about their favourite books they think about the characters, for instance Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Jack Reacher. Lee Child has always emphasised the importance of character: “You say Agatha Christie, and people remember Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Almost every book is remembered for character.”
When I sold Lee Child’s translation rights for his thrillers, everyone talked about his protagonist Jack Reacher. They loved Jack Reacher and they wanted to read the next book because of him: ‘women want him, men want to be him.’
Character is so important. I want to see rich, believable and likeable characters. I want to get to know them. I want to read your books because of your characters as they connect me to the plot.