As a reader what comes first, character, plot, setting?
Well, obviously, all three are fundamental building blocks of a novel, so to disregard any of them will result in a story that is less than structurally sound. But…
I’m not a “setting” guy. There, I said it.
I know many people (hi, Tracy!) choose books based primarily on the setting (quaint English village, Southern plantation, Hooters restaurant), but I’m not one of them. A story could take place in a phone booth (remember those?) and if it has interesting characters and a driving plot, I’ll be happy.
Now, between character and plot, which is most important to me? Again, I consider both to be vital components of a story well told. But I’d have to give the slight edge to character. You see, it’s the characters who stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.
I’m a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. I can tell you what clothes he wears, where he prefers to go for drinks, and where he lives. I can also tell you the size of the bites of food his girlfriend Susan Silverman eats (microscopic). For the life of me, however, I couldn’t tell you the plot of any particular Spenser book (Wait, wait. Somebody goes missing. Spenser snoops around, angering the people he talks to. Then he finds the missing person, but refuses, at first, to send him/her back. Finally, all are reunited.)
Now, while I read them, the plots keep me following along, but it’s the characters I remember: Spenser, Hawk, Susan, Belson, Quirk, Rita from the law firm, Henry from the gym, and all the thugs and semi-thugs Spenser deals with.
Ditto for Jack Reacher. Same for Harry Bosch. Likewise for Lucas Davenport (I only remember snatches of the plots from the “Prey” books. And the setting, wasn’t it cold? Some northern state starting with M—Michigan or Minnesota or Maine or Manitoba?).
Give me a compelling character and I’ll follow him or her anywhere, through any dire situation.
Just don’t ask me to remember the details about the setting or the plot.