I wrote my post Books That Linger back in January. One of the books I cited was Ender's Game. I recently watched the movie version of it and was disappointed. I thought perhaps it is because I just finished reading the book, but no--that wasn't it.
I try to watch movies as movies, even if they were once books I loved. They are totally different beasties. I thought Hunger Games was well done as a movie. Certainly, there were sacrifices, but they didn't detract from an enjoyable movie; that seems to be the consensus of those I know who've both seen and read the story. Ender's Game? Not so much. Too much characterization was sacrificed for plot, and the plot suffered for it. All that made Ender's Game a great story was diluted out. We feel for Ender in the book because we KNOW Ender. We feel his pain, his fear, his frustration because Mr. Card provided us with all we needed to do so. On the screen, having the immensely talented Asa Butterfield teary-eyed for most of the film just didn't cut it.
And that brings me to the crux of my post--sacrificing character for plot. Some of the big books do it. Not to pick on Mr. Martin again, though we seem to do so in this blog, but I've been feeling this a lot in the Song of Ice and Fire series. In the early books, the characters drove the plot along. The further in we get, the more characters we are faced with, the less defined they become. It gets harder to feel for them, even if we have in the past.
I have been working on The Shadows One Walks, fourth in my cycle, for a little over a year now. Though a reader can read any of my books without having to have read the others, they all connect in some way. With The Shadows One Walks, the reader needs to have read the other books for it to really pack its punch. Threads from Finder, A Time Never Lived, and Beyond the Gate get woven together in the fourth book. As I work through it, I'm trying to keep those threads from tangling, making sure they get tied into satisfying knots. The plot feels much bigger, and it is...and that's been the problem.
My stories are very much about the characters. As one reviewer put it, I write about the little people in big worlds. It's not about the big events, it's about the people living through them. In The Shadows One Walks, I discovered I'd been sacrificing the heart of my story--its characters--for a big plot that I never meant to write.
It's not the first time I've done this. When writing A Time Never Lived, I did the same thing. I went down the path of "political intrigue" when the story was supposed to be about a young man's search for his father, about love against the odds, and about how we are all, at the core, from the same stuff. I ended up ditching about thirty thousand words of first draft and starting at the beginning again, this time treading the right path--the character path.
I won't have to do that with The Shadows One Walks, but I do have to make adjustments--big adjustments. Such is the life of a writer. Yet it gets me wondering if movie-makers discover they've drained the story's characters from their films, and still choose to sacrifice them for bigger boom-pow-shebang plots. And authors whose stories get away from them, whose plots get so big that the characters become almost interchangeable.
So the big question is, can you forgive a weak plot for great characters? Or can you forgive weak characters for a great plot? Either? Neither? Both?
For me? I'd naturally prefer getting both great characters and a great plot, but if I had to choose, I'll choose characters every time. What about you?
Curious oysters everywhere want to know.