Plot, Character, Style, and Themes

Posted August 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

While listening to an episode of the Bookragous podcast they had a topic on Plot, Character, and Style and I thought that was interesting and maybe something I can explore further. For those of you that are not aware the concept was taught to one of the podcasters in how to help sell books. If you are not sure what to recommend, ask the customer to rate plot, character and style in the order of personal preference. This can help narrow the type of book to recommend which is a nice idea but my initial reaction was, ‘This wouldn’t work for me.’

When picking books, my preference is towards a book that explores interesting themes; I want a book that challenges me and offers me some new idea to explore. I know I’m different but recently in a review of Divergent I wondered if people read books for plots or themes. I suspect I’m the odd one out but I had it in my head that people like themes over plot. However, I think I may be the only person that picks up a book thinking it will explore some nice themes rather than plot, characters or style.

If I were to pick preferences, I would say style is the most important thing in a book, characters have to be interesting but plot doesn’t really matter as much. I would want the characters to be developed and complex; if you have a good style and characters you don’t need a plot at all. This obviously comes down to personal preferences, but this does bring me to one of my bête noires, likeable characters.

I hate it when people say they don’t like a book because the characters are not likeable. What is the point of that? Why would you want all characters to be likeable? I know this post is about to turn into a rant but I need to say it. In life we know that not everyone is going to be good or likeable, so why except differently in a book. We read to discover new worlds and experience new things; it is impossible to explore some themes or subjects if everyone is likeable.

Look at The Catcher in the Rye as an example; would this modern classic work if the characters were likeable? I have to admit that I read The Catcher in the Rye when I first started reading and I didn’t enjoy it because Holden was whiny and annoying. This is something I hate to admit because I’ve been an advocate for unlikeable characters and transgressive fiction as of late. I feel like I have come to a point in my life where I’m going to have to reread The Catcher in the Rye again just so I can get it right.

To get back on track, let me know in the comments below what your preferences are between plot, characters and style. Also do you think themes are important in a book or am I just a minority. We can also complain/debate about hating books because of unlikeable characters in the comments as well. I just wanted to explore my thoughts in a stream of conscious style; that is why this is a little all over the place.

0 responses to “Plot, Character, Style, and Themes

  1. I agree with you. The themes explored in a book are far more important to me than the plot. Some books have very simple or non-existent plots (ex. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf) but I love them because they explore themes of beauty, truth, suffering, death, etc. Above all, I value the character. Characters need not be likable but they should be well-developed and complex (unless the story is supposed to be a moral allegory, but that was more of a late Medieval thing. Such books aren’t written anymore).

  2. Tiffani

    As to plot, characters, style, theme – I don’t prefer one over another but need a book have at least one, maybe two, of these characteristics and that it is done well. It also depends somewhat on the type of book. In a mystery for example, I generally expect really great characters or a really great plot. Romance is about the characters and maybe the style, as the plot is usually a foregone conclusion. For literary fiction, I would tend to expect more in the way of style or theme. I agree with you about the likability of characters not being a reason to like or dislike a book. It is more about whether the characters are interesting. Gone Girl is an example of a book with characters I didn’t like at all but I very much enjoyed that book because, among other reasons, the two main characters were so interesting. It was a compelling read.

  3. Nishita

    I am with you on character and theme being the focal points of a book. However, I think the likability of the person does play a big part when you are reading memoirs.

  4. I’m a theme gal all the way and as for likable characters? Pfft. Some of my favorite novels have characters I did not like- The Woman Upstairs, & Sons, Gone Girls, and The Ballad of a Small Player are a few. They provide contrast and conflict- what a novel needs. At least for me.

    • I totally agree, I found this perfect quote recently;

      “That the question of likability even exists in literary conversations is odd. It implies that we are engaging in a courtship. When characters are unlikable, they don’t meet our mutable, varying standards. Certainly we can find kinship in fiction, but literary merit shouldn’t be dictated by whether we want to be friends or lovers with those about whom we read. ” — Roxane Gay (The Bad Feminist)

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