Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Ellen Hart writes:

Juggler Mary Higgins Clark once commented that the three main elements in writing a mystery were pace, plot, and character. She likened them to three balls. The writer’s task was to be a juggler, to keep those three balls up in the air at all times. If the writer allowed one to drop, the reader’s interest would also dip.

For years, I’ve felt that character was the centerpiece of my mysteries. But the more I write, the more I realize that Mary was right--that it’s all a connected web. Character driven books are great--as long as there’s good pace and plot. Plot-driven books are fine, too, as long as we’re given someone to really care about and a sense of forward momentum. And a book that’s all pace and plot (a thriller) Wed Burning Question can interest me, but not if the characters are so flat that if they turn sideways, you can’t see them.

What do you think of Mary Higgin’s Clark’s comment?


Sandra Parshall said...

When people ask me which comes first, character or plot, I have to say they always come together. Only one set of characters could act out each plot. Change the characters and you change the plot. So yes, I agree with Ms. Clark. She obviously knows how to please readers, so we can all learn from her.

Kari Wainwright said...

I would give character the edge (and maybe a bigger ball of the three). I've been known to finish books and watch movies which had slender plots as long as the character(s) fascinated me. But if there are no characters I want to spend time with, forget plot and pacing. I've moved on to something else.

Peg Brantley said...

If I don't want to read something that has it all, character, plot and pacing, I read non-fiction.

Just sayin'.

Diane Germanowski said...

I so agree with M.H. Clark. And that is why not everyone can write a successful story and why there is really a craft to writng mysteries.
I may like characterization more but a great character without a good plot and good pacing will likely have me walk away.

Ellis Vidler said...

I agree with MHC, and it's hard to do. Pace is the forgotten element in many books and one I have the most trouble with. Characters draw me in, but pace keeps me turning pages, and the plot has to be credible and justify the characters' actions.

Sheila Connolly said...

The plot has to work, because if we read at all intelligently, mistakes will annoy us. But the characters have to be engaging--if you don't care about them, why should you follow them around for 300 pages? A strong and interesting, if not always likeable, set of characters can make you overlook a lot of other things.

Patti said...

Character should drive plot in IMHO. People DO things because of what and who they are and what they desire. Too much introspection is dull while too much action indeed leaves the story flat. I would describe it as weaving the elements together as well as juggling the balls.

Kari Wainwright said...

I agree with Patti's comparison to weaving the elements of a novel together. I think of a story as a tapestry, especially when I have to do some unraveling because the pattern changed as I was working on it.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Lorraine,

I've been reading Mary Higgins Clark for many years and respect her writing technique tremendously.
In mystery/suspense, character, plot and pace have to be meshed together in proper proportion or the novel falls apart.

Jacqueline Seewald