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Friday, September 6, 2013

Are Your Novels Character or Story Driven??

Having had 29 romances published, I can honestly state that all of my works are character driven. It's not something I've even thought about consciously...until recently.

The other day, I was bored out of my mind with cable. One more reality show, with people I'd never want to meet in real life, and I'll hurl. I was channel surfing and came upon LMN (Lifetime Movie Network). In the few seconds I gave it prior to moving on, I noticed that the movie being shown was about domestic abuse. Ah, a story with teeth (or so I thought).

The premise is simple: a woman learns her ex is abusing their children. He has custody. He's wealthy. He has all the power. She decides to spirit the children away and start a new life with the help of an 'underground railroad' type thing for distraught mothers. So far, so good.

Then I started watching it, and I realized almost immediately that this was a plot-driven story. The characters' predicament and common sense had absolutely nothing to do with it.

First, the children (a boy about 11 and a girl about 9) know their father has a short fuse. While he's on the phone with someone, the girl is bouncing a large ball on the very expensive, glass-topped cocktail table. The boy is sweating bullets, begging her not to do this. He knows (and she should know) what will happen. Does she listen to reason? No. She sticks her tongue out at him and proceeds to break a very expensive lamp with the ball.

All hell breaks loose. Smoke is practically coming out of the father's ears. The boy takes the blame and the father ominously tells him to come upstairs (either for a beating or for a beating and sexual molestation - it wasn't clear).

In any event, the mother shows up - she and the father fight - she spirits her children away. Is the little girl sorry? Does she worry about the pain she caused her brother? Nope. She continues to be the ultimate brat and the most clueless kid on Planet Earth.

Now, mind you, the father is mega wealthy, he's alerted the cops, everyone knows the mother and kids are on the run. So, what does the mother do? She takes them to a bank to cash a check (using her real identity). During this, the little girl starts a fight with the brother, they create such a ruckus EVERYONE notices them. The mother calls them by their real names and tells them to quiet down. She is not at all concerned that someone will recognize them later (the people in the bank do, because of the ruckus the little girl created, and promptly report the sighting to the cops).

The mother finally hooks up with the 'underground railroad' people at a house in a remote area. The guy who is going to take her to Canada explains they have to keep a low profile. So what does he drive? A bright red car circa 1950s-1960s that stands out like the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile as they're all trying to get away with the cops in hot pursuit.

When they reach a safe location, the children are told NOT to go outside (should someone see them and report it to the cops). So what does the little girl do? Yep, she goes outside to pet a bunny, sees a guy across the field, stands there and waves at him. Naturally, the cops show up about three seconds later. During a shootout (yep, there is a shootout), the guy/woman/kids escape in his bright red vintage car. No one notices.

I could go on, but it just continues in the same vein. And, to me, is the perfect example of a plot-driven story. Everything that happens is simply there to advance the plot. It doesn't make any sense. No one who is trying to keep a low profile would behave like this. And that little girl? OMG. Someone needed to have a serious talk with her. Not that anyone ever did, because the writer needed her dumb behavior to advance the plot.

This had to be the worst move I've ever seen. And it convinced me that character-driven stories beat plot-driven stories every single time.

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Tina Donahue
“Heat with Heart”


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Cara Marsi said...

Hi, Tina, I got a chuckle out of your synopsis of the movie. I agree completely that about character-driven books and movies. It's all about the characters. I have loved books because of the characters even if the books weren't as well-written as I would have liked. I've disliked well-written bestsellers because I couldn't relate to the characters.

I go nuts when I'm watching a movie and a character is too stupid to live. Before I started writing seriously I might not have noticed that. Recently I was watching a hit TV show that I like, and a young woman who'd been held prisoner finally escapes. Where does she go? The the woods, alone, not to the town where there were people. Even though I like the show I almost stopped watching.

If I see your movie on LMN I'll be sure to stay away from it.

Paris said...


For me, well-motivated, realistic characters will drive either a movie or a book in a better direction than a clunky plot that's focused on action that makes little sense.

I have no idea why the authors/screenwriters like to portray people as stupid but LMN does seem to have more than their share of movies that do this. Like Cara, I'll be on the look-out for this movie. Thanks for the warning:)

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Cara! Trust me, it was the worst movie ever. I'm like you, if the characters don't do it for me, I just can't get into the book/movie/whatever.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Paris! You're welcome. Every time I watch something like this, I'm calculating how much the writer made. $25,000? $50,000? Make me want to cry.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Tina! your summation regarding the little girl gave me chills. She could be one creepy adult. I like to know characters. Throwing one thing after another can be tiresome. So ultimately, a good blend is the best way to go.

Rose Anderson said...

I so agree! Give me characters and their stories. Don't fill the screen or the pages with senseless fluff and special effects. Tell me a story! Even George Lucas might give this some thought.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Vicki! Oh that kid, she made me want to scream. And the mother - TSTL. Eeeeeee.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Rose! So true. One of the sci fi movies I've ever seen was Gattaca. Don't know if you saw it or not, but it broke my heart when he practically scrubbed his upper layer of skin off so his DNA couldn't be tested, which would have exposed him as a 'lesser' human being. It was so freaking sad. I loved that film because of the characters and what they had to go through. Not because of the dystopian world they lived in.

Sandy said...

To me it sounds like all the characters were too dumb to live, or get away in this case.

A lot of men like action movies, but I like movies that make sense.

Melissa Keir said...

Characters move everything for me from a story to a movie. I can't stand it when I don't like a character or when the characters don't make sense. Do you think that most romance readers must love characters??

Tina Donahue said...

Me too, Sandy. I just saw The Transformers on TV - no way would I have paid to see it in a theater. Even with all the action going on, I kept fighting boredom. I did laugh a couple of times at the supremely stupid dialogue.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Melissa! I think readers of all genres have to either love the characters or hate them (in the case of villains), otherwise there's no draw to the story.

Molly Daniels said...

OMG....wonder if the writer of the original script gave up his/her rights when the director's vision ran amok? Or if the writer was that idiotic...

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Molly! Hard to say. I've been watching LMN quite a bit lately, since there's nothing but crappy reality shows on the other channels. A lot of the LMN stuff is poorly written. Either they pick up all the bad scripts out there, or someone is making a lot of wrong decisions when it comes to common sense with their plots.

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