Monday, January 13, 2020

The Character Made Me Do It

Q: When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

-from Susan

For me, definitely character. I think the plot is defined by the main characters’ attitudes, biases, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. The protagonist and the villain, in particular, drive the plot forward by how they view and act on the crime. I write mysteries so it’s the protagonist who will be introduced first. Who is she? Why does she think she has a role in solving this crime? Is she going to tackle it directly with bravery or at least bravado? Is she going to sidle up to the problem quietly and diffidently? Can she handle the danger? If not, how will she find allies and what will they do? All of that and more dictate the shape and momentum of the plot. 

There are writers who rely on complex plots that carry all the characters along as if in a fast-moving stream. The plot acts on them. Works for some, but I couldn’t do it. 

My themes seem to come out of the story gradually. In one series, I realized I was returning to the same idea, one that bothers me in real life: The effects that ridiculous amounts of money, illegal acts that require that money be laundered, and the commodification of art have had on the art world. I don’t like it and I find I can use my Dani O’Rourke novels to show a few of the ways it has perverted the art market, hurt artists, and invited in crime. 

I expect that my novels don’t always move as fast as some readers would like. I have chosen to let my characters come at their amateur sleuthing at their own pace and in their own ways. They do get to the end having brought justice to killers and crooks, though, and that satisfies me.


Frank Zafiro said...

Spoiler alert, Susan - we agree. :-)

Well described thought process!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I agree with you Susan, the plot is defined by the main characters.

Susan C Shea said...

Frank, You may have some different takes on why - I'm interested.

Susan C Shea said...

Dietrich, you write such different books from mine, and yours are faster paced - so interesting that we still both start with character.