Let’s Talk Bookish: Character or Plot Focused Books?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was originally created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books starting in August 2019, and was then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion from May 2020 to March 2022. Book Nook Bits has hosted since April 2022.

September 9: Character or Plot Focused Books? 
(Brooke @ The Reader’s Game)

Prompts: What makes a book more character focused? What makes one more plot focused? Which do you prefer? Do you have any recommendations for plot focused and character focused books?

This is a really intriguing question, and it’s kind of hard to completely, fully answer it. Character and plot are so often – in good novels – entwined, with one influencing the other, but I definitely think there are differences in terms of originality. Romances tend to follow similar plot structures, and rely more on characters to entice readers. Fantasy often has similar character-types, but can be more plot-driven as there is the ability to have more going on around the characters. These aren’t absolutes, of course, just initial musings.

I think when a book is more character focused there’s a deeper transformation that happens to the character. The plot could be anything, but it’s the characters who make the book more unique and help it stand out. There are any number of books that follow the same plot formula, and utilize the same tropes, but they become memorable through the characters and they way they react to the plot. Similarly, I think it’s characters who really drive a lot of retellings. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a Pride and Prejudice retelling, but it’s Bridget who really makes it unique. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is based on Romeo & Juliet, but although they encapsulate some of the same traits as their namesakes, Juliette and Roma are very different. I think it’s why retellings are so enduring – the ones that stand out are the ones that really make their characters shine, and we’re drawn to the characters again and again, no matter the plot.

When a book is more plot focused, there tends to be more twists and turns (I think). There’s less of a reliance on the characters propelling the plot forward, but they should be reacting to the events anyway. Characters can take on a bit more of an archetype feel, although they should still feel more fleshed out. A good book keeps the reader turning the page, not necessarily to see what happens to the characters, but in general to find out what happens next. I think this tends to fall under more procedural type books, especially in Crime, Thriller and related subgenres (including some Urban Fantasy). Long-running series’ in these will have similar setups – a dead body, investigation of crime scene, etc, and at the end the murderer is revealed.

As I’m writing this and pondering it I’m finding myself thinking of more ideas – both Romance and Crime tend to have similar plots and structures within their genres, yet Romance often feels more character-focused and Crime more plot-focused to keep their readers engaged.

I think I prefer more character focused books – 9/10 it’s the characters I remember most strongly, and feel a connection to when reading. I tend to prefer books where characters drive the plot forward, rather than reacting to the plot as it happens. But largely, I think the best books manage to strike a balance between Character and Plot.

I actually can’t think of any really good recommendations – I think partly because the two are so entwined in really good books, and most of what I’ve read recently has very much been a combination of character and plot focused, rather than heavily one or the other.

However, I would love to hear your recommendations and your ideas on the topic. If you take part in Let’s Talk Bookish, drop your link in the comments, and if not, feel free to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear it.

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