Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Concept vs. Character Death Match

Yes, the kidlets have been watching a lot of Homestarruner lately and I've been inundated with Strongbad, hence the DEATH MATCH. *cue cheesy dun dun dun..* What started this was a review I saw the other day of Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher.

I just finished this book a couple weeks ago, and it is sort of a sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, quasi-historical.It has two POV characters, and the story alternates between the two. It took me a little time to get into the groove of the book, but once I did I enjoyed it. The person's review that got me thinking was that she didn't like it because she couldn't become really invested in the characters. 

As I thought about it, I realized that sure enough, I was pretty ho-hum about the characters too. But I still enjoyed the book because the concept was intriguing.  And since I'm a writer-type, and like to mull about this sort of thing rather than pay attention to the football game I'm watching with my hubby on TV (shh, don't tell him), I started pondering about what is more important to me as a reader, concept or character? I thought back to some books that stand out in my mind.

I enjoyed the Twilight series (until book 4, which I threw across the room) because of the concept. Some of the characters I liked, others I wanted to slap silly. *cough* *Bella* *cough* So in that case it was concept over character. 
Concept = 2 (including Incarceron), Character = 0

In Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, I'm going to say the concept won me at first, and kept me long enough to get into the characters. So it was concept hook, then character reeled me in. And in a death match, I have to choose one over the other, so...

Concept = 3, Character = 0

In Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland, it was all character. The concept wasn't super-different, but boy, I loved the characters.
Concept = 3, Character = 1
In Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, it was another case of character trumping concept, although the concept was pretty good.

Concept = 3, Character =2

Then comes Soulless by Gail Carriger, which was a super fun read (the whole series), and all about the concept for me. 
Concept = 4, Character = 2

The Artemis Fowl series is another of my top favorites, and this one has the knockout combination of a fantastic concept AND great characters. 
Concept = 5, Character = 3

Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, Pretties, and Specials stand out among books I've read, and that was for the awesome concept.
Concept = 6, Character = 3

Almost every Jodi Picoult book has a foundation of great characters, and my favorite, My Sister's Keeper, is no exception. Jodi always adds a nice concept twist, but the characters carry the book.
Concept = 6, Character = 4

Another favorite, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, is very much a character book too.

Concept = 6, Character = 5

So, the result of our Death Match is . . . concept wins by one! (Not exactly a death match, but still.)

**Revision: For those who visited earlier and my math was off (pathetic when you're only counting to 6, right?), I have learned not to write a blog post while helping kidlets with homework. Doesn't work so well.

But what I learned from it is much more exciting. I think a story needs to have either a killer concept OR killer characters. Of course, as a writer, it is best if you can knock both out of the park, but either your characters or your concept need to really shine, and then the other has to be pretty good, or at the least not turn people off. (I'm thinking in particular about a book I read with a really intriguing concept but I couldn't stand the main character, so I couldn't finish the trilogy. I even gave the story a chance in Book 2. Nope, still couldn't stand the MC.) 

How about you? Do you prefer concept over character, or vice versa? Perhaps our Death Match can be revived...


Julie Daines said...

Hmmm.... Tough call. I think I might have to side with Sara Megibow on this one and ask, "Is it well written?" Although there are definitely some books out there that I couldn't put down even though the writing was meh.

Julie Wright said...

wow . . . I love your list, and I'm torn. Concept versus character is a hard one. But I love the books you've put up there for all the same reasons. And hate certain aspects for the same reasons. I just finished Artemis Fowl yesterday and loved it. So much fun. Holly rocks. Butler rocks. Loved it. In writing I think I am more character than concept.

Noble M Standing said...

You mean I'm not the only one who threw book #4 across the room? SAWEEEET! I agree with you. I think really great stories have both concept and character. While I am pretty sure I write good character I struggle to reign them in sometimes in order to allow the theme/concept to have some screen time. But that is something I am working on.

Interesting, while I thought the concept for MElissa Marr's Wicked Lovely was good, I fell for her characters. I read all of the books because i had to get my Niall fix. :)