Character versus plot
I recently watched The Stranger on Netflix (based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name). It was certainly gripping. I watched one of the eight episodes a night and I really wanted to know what had happened to the woman who went missing at the beginning. There was a lot of excellent acting and exciting cliff-hangers and yet and yet . . . in the end I felt disappointed. There were several plot strands – too many perhaps – and the attempt to tie them all together wasn’t altogether successful. But the real problem was that two of the main characters behaved so implausibly at the end. Nothing in their earlier behaviour had prepared the viewer for their unethical actions (have to say, too, that even the most rudimentary police investigation would have revealed some pretty large discrepancies). In other words, plot trumped character and as a result the ending for me was weak.
It got me thinking about the importance of character. Yes, plot is important in crime fiction, but ideally plot should spring out of character and when it doesn’t, I find myself losing interest or wanting to throw the book across the room, shouting, ‘they just wouldn’t have done that!’ It is one of the hardest things to get right, and I have spent many hours trying to work how I can get my characters to do what I want them to do without provoking that kind of response in my readers. When we think of the books that we love, isn’t it so often the characters that stay with us, however startling or original the plot?