1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    What's more important, plot or theme?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ryan Elder, Aug 17, 2015.

    A lot of times when I ask other writers for advice since I am not advanced, a lot will tell me if there is a plot hole, or an implausibility here or there, and they will give suggestions on how to fix it. But I find that a lot of the suggestions can get in the way of the theme. If a character makes a different decision or if something else happens in a section of the story that alone can change themes about feelings you are trying to engage in the reader.

    One writer I had a conversation with suggested that I change the ending of a story, because he said that the villain's downfall means he would have to make a mistake that perhaps he wouldn't normally make and the his downfall as a result of his 'weakness'. But I was told by another writer that him making decisions based on his weakness causes problems in the plot, and he suggested a new way that was more likely and plausible to happen. He said that the hero should just shoot the villain in the head because then it gets rid of implausibilities.

    Yes it does, but anyone can be defeated by being shot in the head, and the villain is not brought to his downfall by his weakness therefore. The theme is gone, but the plot may be more plausible as a result.

    That is just one example, but if you had to pick between what's more important, the plot holding together better, or stronger themes for the reader to get wrapped up in, what is more important if you had to pick one, and could not have both?
     
  2. VioletKnight
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    VioletKnight Member

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    It's best to have both, but if you want people to like your work theme. People feel better when your work has consistency and identity to it and are willing to overlook implausibilities.

    You haven't given much details on your story, so I don't know what you were aiming for.
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I am just asking in general with no particular story in mind right now. Another example would be a few weeks ago, I talked about on here actually, a story I had where a cop is after a serial rapist/killer, who he himself is raped by the villain and escapes. He then wants revenge on the villain and sets a plan in motion.

    But I was told by one writer that the revenge plan causes problems in the plot because he relies on things to happen that wouldn't perfectly happen that way likely and things like so, and it was implausible that he would break the law so much when it's not in his best interest. His advice was take the revenge plan out since it's creates too many complications and just have the character catch the crooks within the law, by completely honest means.

    But then I asked myself would that best for the theme? Is their a point to having the cop be raped, if he is just going to catch the villain by completely honest means, since it was his job anyway? Would he still be able to be on the case, with such a thing happening to him? It just seems to me that the theme is lost, even if the plot has a better chance of making sense.

    But that is just another example, and I am only asking now as a general guideline, if that makes sense.
     
  4. VioletKnight
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    VioletKnight Member

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    Well getting raped can mess people up, so after the incident, he could care less about his own interests and just want to get back at the guy on his own terms. So it's not terribly unrealistic, and there are dozens of rape&revenge stories so people are reading them.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A too-implausible plot is unacceptable. The fact that it may support your theme doesn't make it any more acceptable. That doesn't make plot more important than theme, it just means that an implausible plot is unacceptable, period.

    An analogy: Let's say that you want a birthday cake to have pink frosting. You decide that the pinkness is more important than the flavor, so you color the frosting with tomato soup. But that's not acceptable; the frosting has to have the right color AND at least an acceptable flavor. "Pinkness is more important than flavor" might explain why the frosting flavor isn't your preferred flavor of chocolate, but it does NOT excuse a salty-tomato-flavored frosting.

    An implausible plot is like salty-tomato frosting: It's just not acceptable.
     
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  6. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am mildly tired. So correct me if I am wrong but you are asking if given a choice between theme and plot which is more important to keep? The issue I take with this is the following.

    They work together so a clash will cause the other to be weaker.

    Imagine it like clothing. Theme being bottoms and plot being the top. Well It is not better to have a nice top and ripped pants than it is to have ripped top and nice pants. If either is ripped then the style is ruined. Assuming the style was nice.

    At that point I would argue it is better to have ripped pants and a ripped shirt because at least then you can argue that the point was to have a unique style.

    Also remember in fiction the laws of the universe sort of are different. A good case I think is Alice and Wonderland. Not from personal expeirence I havent read the book but I hear this argument before and I consider it fitting.

    Alice and Wonderland as I understand it makes no logical sense. It is random. But the thing is the point is to be random. The theme is random. So in context it makes sense. It doesn't make sense in our world but it makes sense in its world which is the ultimate goal.

    Now I know in your world it is meant to be our world but it is still a movie version of our world which means the rules can be slghtly off and we can accept that. If that makes sense?
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    A villain shouldn't get his downfall because the protagonist acts stupidly. That's not a good villain OR a good protagonist. As you said, anybody will die if you shoot them in the head. But it's your job as a writer to give a plausible reason, that fits your themes, for why the protagonist doesn't just shoot the villain in the head.

    When you engineer the plot to make it fit your themes, it has to be plausible. If you can't do that then something in the story isn't right.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    You seem to be trying TOO hard to have a theme - something of great profundity - that you want to get across to the audience. You're complaining that being constricted by reality is cramping your style. If the plot - and keeping it plausible - is getting in the way of the theme you're trying to convey, I'd suggest that you've got the wrong plot.

    To take your example of a cop being raped and then wanting revenge upon the rapist...why does he need to be a cop to feel vengeful about that situation?
     
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  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends what you mean by important. It seems you're specifically talking about plot holes and/or implausibilities, so as many have said, you need to watch them.

    However, if it's plot vs theme (by theme I take it you mean style, depth of characters, setting, atmosphere) then it's theme all the way. Many novels, especially when character driven, have very weak 'plots' indeed.
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    In my mind theme is an extension of plot and idea. Take your idea of a cop who gets raped and vows revenge. It's kinda easy to have the theme as revenge so say you want it to be something more than just revenge. I think about the character and his motivation for revenge. Humiliation, the embarrassment of his authority being challenged. The fact that his figure as a person in authority wasn't effective.

    Maybe the theme is a loss of faith in his stance as a police officer, in his own authority and power and seeks to regain his power by becoming the hunter. He's identifying the serial killer with power. Once you can chase down these ideas you can find a clearer theme and take the story in any direction. It's not that you alter the plot per say it's that you're giving your reader a deeper understanding of your character's motivation.
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This may be a little off the main question

    Consider that readers will bring their own opinions and life experiences to your story. They will assign motivations for character actions and drives based upon their experiences and world view, unless you specifically hammer out a specific reason for each action and motivation, which is far too controlling and will cause your story to fail engaging readers.

    What you do as a writer is to spark a reader's imagination while telling an entertaining story. Thought provoking is not control of reader thoughts and opinions, forcing them down a narrow tunnel to achieve recognition of the theme exactly as intended.

    You can have a general theme, but don't expect everyone to come away with the exact view or reasons for forming it. It's similar to the way a writer forms the image of a character in the reader's mind. What you describe (directly or indirectly) will evolve differently in the mind's eye of every reader...unless you go into such controlling detail that you identify every freckle's placement and the exact length of every fingernail.
     
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  12. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks, that makes me see it in a new way.


    I made him a cop for the plot I wanted. It's easier for the cop to figure out who the villain is by using police resources compared to a civilian, and it's also easier for him to get his plan of revenge if he has police power behind him.

    A civilian could do it, but I made it a cop for the way I wanted the plot to go. Plus he doesn't get raped and want revenge till the second half, and the first half is all investigation of the villain's crimes, so I needed a reason as to why he was investigating it, thereby being his job.
     

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