Interesting question from the Book Blogger Hop sponsored by Crazy for Books. For me, it’s definitely the characters. I’m a sociologist. I find people and how they think and, especially, how they interact with each other, infinitely fascinating. Give me a fairly interesting set of characters and I don’t care that much what happens. In fact, in college and still today some of my favorite writers are fairly light on the stuff happening, but very into trying to convey character. I think of the stream of conscioussness folks like Virgina Woolf and E.M. Forster, who seemed to me to really be trying to convey a person in the most intimate way possible. Or a more contemporary example, A Suitable Boy, in which almost nothing happens for almost 1500 pages, but when I finished it, I missed the characters for the next week; it was like they had moved in with me for the many months it took to finish the book.
Like my friend at As the Crowe Flies, I will read a book that is all plot and find it quite enjoyable. But I have to confess, it feels like a cheap and empty pleasure because it’s just hard for me to get excited about exciting things happening to people who don’t seem particularly real. I feel like when the people in a story are real and deep and meaty, there’s always more to be learned than from a story in which a lot happens. This is why I prefer my mysteries with some characterization. Mysteries are generally pretty plot driven, but need to be balanced out by some interesting people for me.
I would sum up with this metaphor. A story that is truly all plot is like eating a hamburger at McDonald’s–quick, fun and then the pleasure wears off pretty quickly. A story with good characters is like a meal cooked by a top chef at the top of his or her game—something to savor slowly and over time, appreciating all the subtlety in the moment and then remembering it for years to come.