Characterization and Plot are NOT Mutually Exclusive


Here's a quick gripe I have with some Hollywood writing.  I was reading an interview with Robert Cooper who created the spin-off series Stargate Universe along with fellow executive producer Brad Wright.  Cooper said that the series will be character driven, as opposed to being plot driven.  He's also quoted as saying, "We wanted to do something that was a little more grown-up and a little less comic bookish."

Beyond dissing my beloved comics, he implies that stories can't be both character driven and plot driven, as if you can only have one or the other.  Now, I've seen Stargate Universe, and there's a lot about it that I like.  (Even if it's trying very hard to be like the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, while trying to avoid the worst elements of other similarly themed science fiction series about humans out in space trying to survive and find their way back to earth, like Lost in Space or Star Trek: Voyager.)  The show does suffer from some meandering and weak plots.  Focusing on character doesn't mean they have to abandon fundamental storytelling.

Good plots can reveal incredible depth of character.  This isn't meant to be a knock on Cooper or Wright, but why do some people feel that an action-packed story can only be achieved at the expense of characterization?  And why is there a notion that a "character-driven" story has to have a slow pace or, worse, is somehow perceived to be more "adult"? 

My argument is that every story should be plot-driven and focus on character -- at the same time.  It's not a contradiction.  Both can co-exist.  

Good plot devices can reveal intriguing aspects of characters.  We can learn much about characters through their actions, not just through lengthy (sometimes boring and over-written) dialogue.  "Characterization" (in the bad, misguided sense of the term) can be detrimental to a good story and can kill it cold by relying too much on mishandled exposition, by "telling" instead of "showing."  The best characterization is often revealed through meaningful action that moves the story forward.

Now let me get back to Cooper's dig at comic books and their allegedly non-grown-up readers.  Comics can, and should, have depth of character, and some writers in Hollywood fail when attempting to adapt comics because they focus on the childish aspects instead of the good storytelling that's often found in the pages of some of the best classic comic book tales.  Those elements are what resonate with fans.

Storytelling is an art.  Writers need to master using dialogue and action, moving their stories through satisfying arcs while providing audiences everything they need to know to become engaged in the story and characters. 

Plot and Characterization are intertwined and you really cannot have one without the other.

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