World, Character, or Plot? Why do you read and write the way you do?

I once participated in a discussion where someone posed the question: why do you read what you read? Do you read for the world, the characters, or the plot?

In the course of discussion, someone suggested that perhaps people who are “world” readers will prefer genres like fantasy and science fiction, people who are “character” readers will prefer more realistic fiction, and people who are “plot” readers will enjoy genres like mysteries, thrillers, and adventure stories.

Obviously this is a flawed look at the nuanced ways people choose their reading material (or other media entertainments). But I think this idea does hold a grain of truth for both what people choose to read, and for what writers choose to write.

In my own entertainment choices, I prefer stories that employ a good blend of world building, character and plot. However, when I examine my favorite books, films and television shows more deeply, I’ve found that I’m willing to forgive shallower or less interesting characters if the world building and plots are really cool. On the other hand, I can also forgive plot-holes, weird time lines, etc. if the characters and world building are really great.

The one thing I have trouble forgiving is shoddy, poorly thought-out world building.

Give me a rich and engaging world, whether it be a fictional small town in America, the supernatural underworld in a big city, or a medieval kingdom filled with monsters and magic and if the characters and plot are at least somewhat engaging, I’m sucked right in.

So that makes me a “world” reader first and foremost. But character is a strong second place—the books, films and shows that I turn back to over and over again inevitably have strong characters to go with their engaging worlds.

So how do these reading preferences influence my writing?

Just as you might guess, I spend a lot of my time as a writer thinking about world building.

I’m curious if this pattern holds true for other writers out there. Do you write like you read? And are you a “world” person, a “character” person, or a “plot” person?

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About Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

Jocelyn Nash Carlin writes speculative fiction for children and adults. She also co-hosts the Writing Snippets podcast and blog at www.WritingSnippets.com. View all posts by Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

5 responses to “World, Character, or Plot? Why do you read and write the way you do?

  • Chas Hathaway

    I know I could use some suggestions for good worldbuilding. Fantasy and Science fiction are my favorite genres to read, but I sometimes get lost in the world. I’ve been attempting fantasy writing, but this is one place I feel a little weak. Any ideas for my worldbuilding as a writer?

    • Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

      Chas–

      Orson Scott Card has a great book full of world building tips called How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. In the edition I read all the publishing industry advice is badly outdated, but the writing and world building advice is top-notch.

      I’ve also heard good things about Diana Wynn Jones’ book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. It’s on my own To Be Read list.

      On the web, I’ve discovered the writing blog of author Juliette Wade, talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com, is full of great articles on world building.

      Lastly, one thing that might be helpful is to simply re-read your favorite fantasy novels with a more analytical approach. Instead of reading for pleasure, look at the world, figure out why it appeals to you, why it feels real to you, and how the writer laid down the details in a way that worked for you as a reader.

      Best wishes on your writing!

  • Alice

    I like plot. The story has to be compelling. Next comes character. I have to be interested in and care about them, but if the plot is good enough, I can overlook a character I’m not all that crazy about. World-building comes last for me, though I love a cool setting. Sometimes I might not be all that interested in the story or characters or world but I read simply because the writing is beautiful or poetic.

  • Cara

    I think most of the time I’m a plot person though if a character is really badly written it makes it hard to get through a book. When I write I’m probably the same way.

  • M.L. Forman

    I have to go with Alice on this and say plot. If the story grabs me and drags me along with it, I don’t have time to notice the flowers and bushes along the way. Characters do need to be believable, but I can accept some flaws in the characters if the plot keeps me hooked in. The world is the background, really only standing out if the plot requires a special setting or feel from the space around the characters.

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