Character vs Plot

Plot is not Story.  Plot is a tool that can help you with your story.  It might help quite a bit.  But it might not.  It might even hurt.  Who remembers learning all the ‘versus’ categories in school?  The Most Dangerous Game…Man vs Man.  The Old Man and the Sea…Man vs Nature.  The Lady or the Tiger…Man vs Doors?  Whatever.  I’m still not sure what those categories were supposed to teach us about literature. What about The Call of the Wild? I might ask the main character’s a freakin dog.  Ummm…my teacher might reply…It’s still Man vs Nature, the dog really stands for man.  Yeah, I might have said back, but every step the dog makes takes him closer and closer to nature, not versus nature.  Then my teacher might ignore me because she might have to admit that the versus categories, even broader than plot categories, are pretty much meaningless and have no effect whatsoever in how good the story is.

Plot is neither good nor bad it’s just a tool.  Learn it quickly and move on to something better, more fun, and more interesting.  Your characters.  If you can write a good character, plot will become meaningless.  People remember the characters, not the plot.  Ask someone what Raiders of the Lost Ark is about.  They might say it’s an Adventure Plot.  They might say it’s an Underdog Plot, or a Quest plot, or even Man vs. Man.  But more likely it will be some version of this–“This dude, Indiana Jones, is a professor of archaeology.  He wears a fedora and leather jacket and carries a whip and he looks for lost artifacts and he’s trying to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazi’s do.  Oh yeah it takes place in the ’30’s.  So, you know, there’s Nazis.”  It’s about this guy, it’s about these two young girls, it’s about a freakin sled dog.  Always the character first and what happens to them or what they do second.  Something to think about.

About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.


  1. Sounds like some sound advice!

  2. Great advice. A story can survive plot holes, but it can’t survive character holes.

    I heard the screenwriter for The Wrestler talk about this very topic in a podast. He looks at his stories as opportunities to explore interesting characters, and thinks if you make them good enough you will find them doing fascinating things.

  3. Obviously you were a pain in the ass in school. That’s okay, I was too.

    You make a very good point: Character is critical, then they have to do something or have something happen to them. (Please, God, tell MFA schools. Please.)

  4. I was a pain in the ass in high school but it was rarely on purpose. It was just sort of a default setting.

  5. Very interesting. I agree that character is key. The “versus” you talk about has to do with conflict which drives the characters and therefore has an effect on the plot and where it goes. And having known you for sixteen years, I also agree that your default setting is pain in the ass. 😉