On my #Welcome Wednesday slot, I'm delighted to open the door to my return guest - Nik Morton.
Nik- a prolific author of different genres- has got some very wise words to share today and has also brought his varied, vibrant covers for us to get a feeling of those different types of stories.
I've read a few of his novels, some of those published by Crooked cat Publishing, and really enjoyed them. For me, those stories have a timeless quality about them that's explained very well by Nik in his post below.
One of these days when I squeeze even more time into a day, I'll be reading one of his Western adventures because I'm sure I'll enjoy them, too- as well as the couple that I've also got waiting for me on my kindle.
I've no hesitation in recommending Nik's work as really engrossing and entertaining reading.
Over to you, Nik...
About character versus plot
One of those perennial questions I get is ‘do you prefer plot over character’ and my response is invariably that one without the other does not work.
A plot without character rarely holds a reader; it’s just an outline of events with no reader empathy. A character without a robust plot might interest the reader, but it will probably prove tedious unless the character is drawn very well indeed, such as by Jane Austen: her books are more about character than plot.
‘As in most of my writings I insist not on the events but on their effect upon the person in the tale.’ – Joseph Conrad’s note to Typhoon and other stories
I’m a bit old-fashioned. I like my stories (whether short or novel length) to have a beginning, a middle and an end. That is not to say I always start a story at its chronological beginning – it may start some way through a dramatic event, thrusting the protagonist into a dilemma straight away; that’s the hook for the reader to read on; then the beginning comes along in a quiet moment of exposition. The middle has to contain developments that create problems for the protagonist, getting in the way of her or his goal. And then there is the denouement – though that too can leave it open to sequels, so long as the main storyline obstacle has been overcome or resolved.
All of the foregoing requires plotting. I’m a believer in using a plot-plan. I expend a 15-page chapter on it in my book Write a Western in 30 Days. That doesn’t mean I know everything that is going to happen – only the characters are privy to that! It does mean I have a road-map to a destination.
Having said that, the plot-plan is nothing without engaging characters. Part of the fun in writing a novel is developing characters and writing back-stories for them. Some will interact (in the past as well as in the story), while others may have only minor but crucial walk-on roles.
The adage is ‘write about what you know’. There are several interpretations of this. One is: get to know your characters. I don’t always know them too well when I begin, though I’ve sketched out their physical descriptions and a few personal traits to make them distinctive. As the story moves forward, however, and the characters get involved with each other, fresh traits materialise – and I update my character list.
Throughout the story, characters ‘do things’. But that falls into ‘tell’, not ‘show’. Even a minor character has to have motivation for doing whatever it is they do in the story – whether that’s payment for work, pay-back for a past insult, revenge, jealousy, hate or even for altruistic reasons. Motivation is ‘show’ through their point of view, their inner self.
Cause and effect; that’s Joseph Conrad’s purpose, to show how his characters respond to events. That helps pose useful questions while writing: Why is she doing this? Why did he say that? What can be gained from him doing this? Is that logical? Of course, not every action and reaction made by an individual is logical – but if it isn’t, then there must be a personality trait to explain the illogicality.
Whether I’m writing about half-English half-Spanish private eye Leon Cazador (Spanish Eye), the 1970s psychic spy Tana Standish (The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text), Laura Reid and Andrew Kirby (Blood of the Dragon Trees) or Catherine Vibrissae, the ‘Avenging Cat’ (Catalyst and Catacomb), I have built up a file on each individual character, their descriptions, traits and connections, and as their series stories evolve the details accumulate further, as in life.
I’ve admired a few classic illustrations of authors, surrounded by their many creations – Charles Dickens and Edgar Rice Burroughs spring to mind – and I can empathise with that image. Some of these characters are in stasis, waiting for their next adventure, one or two more impatient than others. If the men in white coats don’t pay me a visit, perhaps I will stop to hear what these insistent characters have to say.
Nik’s second ‘Avenging Cat’ novel, Catacomb is due out from Crooked Cat Publishing on October 20, 2015.
Twitter - @nik_morton
Nik’s books UK
Amazon COM links to Nik’s books
Thank you, Nik, for sharing your post today. I'm a bit old fashioned, too, in that I like to read a story with the parts you've outlined where the whole plot weaves around some great characters. I read Catalyst a few months ago and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series- Catacomb. Best wishes, and please come back again when it releases to share some details about it.