Thursday, December 07, 2006

Round Books --a continuation from Georgiana

This week on GeorgianaD's blog (accessed by using the link to the left) she talked about making your manuscript "round". Most of the replies, mine included, had to do with the characters. This got me to thinking. If the characters seem three dimensional, if I understand their actions and motives (even if, or especially if, I can't predict them) then the book seems real. I care about the people populating it and I want to continue reading.

I've heard books described as character driven, and others as plot driven. But I say a 'rounded' book has both elements. If you have great characters, but they aren't doing anything...what a snore! That's my life every day. I think we're a great bunch of characters around here, but laundry and piano lessons don't set off the 'woohoo!' meter. And if you have a great plot that hurls along like a freight train out of control, but your characters are boring, predictable, flat and perfect, well, I'm kinda praying the train runs over them just for a bit of variety.

I am currently re-reading a series of books about one of my favorite characters of all time, Jo Beth Sidden of Bloodhounds, Inc. a feisty southern gal who does search and rescue missions with her faithful bloodhounds into the mysterious and dangerous world of the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia.

Why is she a favorite, and why does this series seem so 'round'? Here are my musings on the subject:

1) Jo Beth is far from perfect. She's mouthy, opinionated, a control freak, obsessive, passionate...the list goes on. But--and this is important--because Virginia Lanier uses the first person POV, you get a great peek into Jo Beth's mind and you understand her motives. I might not always agree with them, but for the period of time that I'm in Jo Beth's head, I'm willing to go along with it because it is plausible. She's opinionated because she's been on her own for such a long time. She's a control freak, always trying to organize and run everyone else's lives because her own is in such a mess and she has no control there. She's obsessive and passionate about her dogs, and it's endearing because of all she's been through before the book even starts.
2) The plots are rocketing! Danger, love, loss, mystery, scope, pace. You are dropped in the middle of Jo Beth's life and you'd better hang on to the end of the leash!
3) The setting. I've never been in a swamp, but the setting itself is a character, unpredictable, dangerous, and fascinating to this Kansan-turned-Minnesotan. If she'd have set the book on a wheat farm or a dairy barn, the book wouldn't be anywhere near as good.
4) The supporting cast. Everything from a deaf-mute kennel assitant to a reformed prostitute, an obsessive ex-husband with murder on his mind to a pampered, daddy's girl fashionista bookstore owner. Unexpected and unpredictable at every turn.

5)The antagonists. Quite often Jo Beth is her own worst enemy, and who can't identify with that? But there are some mean dudes in these books. And it isn't the escaped felons she's chasing through the swamps that are always the most dangerous. Sometimes it's the Greek bearing gifts.

6) And we can't forget the dogs. The names are hilarious. Taken from history and literature, they have names like Sherlock Holmes and Gloria Steinam. Ceasar and Anthony, Gulliver and Romona. And then there is Jo Beth's special baby, Bobby Lee, a bloodhound blind from birth but especially gifted.

You can read more about the author at

Sadly, she passed away in 2003, so there will be no more Jo Beth Sidden books.

Oh, to be able to create characters and stories like this!


  1. I like your analysis of character and plot. Boring characters being run over by a train cracked me up.

    I have to really like a character or want to be the character in the book and the plot has to grab me or I'll put the book down in favor of reading the back of the Lysol can.

  2. One of the reasons I was never able to get beyond the fourth or fifth chapter of both *The DaVinci Code* and *Left Behind* was flat characters--but I know others love them because they are plot-driven stories.

    But then there are stories that I haven't been able to read--or that I've had a hard time getting through, because they're so focused on the characters that there is hardly any plot.

    I'm with you--I prefer stories that have BOTH strong characters and a strong plot!