Monday, January 07, 2013

Plot and Characters

I've just finished my...what?...21st?...22nd? book; 15 of them are part one series, the Dick Hardesty Mysteries. Series are, by definition, the carrying over of a character or set of characters from one book to another, and I'm not aware of how many other mystery series have as many books.

The Dick Hardesty series follows protagonist Dick Hardesty, his partner Jonathan, Jonathan's orphaned six-year-old nephew, Joshua, and a circle of close friends from story/mystery/adventure to story/mystery/adventure. It has reached the point where, though any of the books can easily be read alone without knowledge of what has come before, I look at each book as a chapter in the story of Dick's life.

All books tend to be either plot-driven or character-driven, and I've become increasingly aware that in my books, perhaps most strongly in the just completed The Serpent's Tongue, in the balance between plot and character, character tends to prevail over the mystery itself. It's hard to overstate the importance of a book's characters. (Several of my books have murderers with whom the reader can empathize.)

I've been fortunate in developing a solid reader base of good people who seem to find my characters both believable and likable—several have been kind enough to say they think of them as friends.

I write each book as a one-sided conversation with the reader. I am very careful to sprinkle sufficient clues—and admittedly a considerable number of red herrings—throughout the book so that the reader can follow their trail, like breadcrumbs, to the killer. It doesn't bother me in the least that the reader might figure out who the killer is before I figuratively call everyone into the drawing room to say, “And the killer is...!”;...that's why I put the clues there in the first place. But it did bother me a bit that some readers might feel somehow shortchanged if they figured out who-dunnit before Dick does.

Every book of fiction is a balance between story and character. But I've long wondered just how readers, not just those who already follow the Dick Hardesty series, feel about that balance; which do they consider most important? So I posed the question on a couple websites including Facebook, and was relieved and gratified that most of the responses thought the balance was tipped rather strongly in favor of character.

I've always felt that my books leaned heavily toward character—that character was the ship plowing through the sometimes stormy seas of the plot.

Those who regularly follow my blogs are aware that I consider Dick Hardesty an alternate-universe me. Our thought processes, our sense of humor, our outlooks on life, our firm beliefs, goals, desires, and emotional reactions are identical. So much so that I find an odd sense of personal validation, not only as a writer but as a human being, in the somewhat convoluted assumption that for a reader to like Dick is to like me.

It's often been said that writing is a form of catharsis, and I couldn't agree more. Creating Dick's very-real-to-me world has also allowed me to vicariously have things I have always so deeply wanted and too seldom had, primarily a partner with whom to share my life. Jonathan, as I've mentioned several times in my blogs, is based in large part on Ray Lopez, who I consider, viewed through the Vaseline-coated lens of memory, to have been the love of my life. Through the catharsis of writing, I can overlook the fact that Ray was a hopeless alcoholic who died of alcohol-induced AIDS. I loved him, and that is all that matters. And so I can give Dick, Jonathan...and Joshua...the “happily ever after” I've not found for myself.

Books allow each of us to live lives other than our own, to find out-of-ourselves pleasure though the words and mind of another. I consider myself blessed to be a writer and, to me, there is nothing more validating or rewarding than when a reader finds pleasure in what I've written.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

1 comment:

Christopher55 said...

Well told - a good story has both with character a notch above plot - if the reader doesn't care what happens to the characters (likeable and unlikeable)then plot becomes pointless