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Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction

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What's more important to a story: a gripping plot or compelling characters? Literary-minded novelists argue in favor of character-based novels while commercial novelists argue in favor of plot-based stories, but the truth of the matter is this: The best fiction is rich in both.

Enter Plot Versus Character. This hands-on guide to creating a well-rounded novel embraces both of these crucial story components. You'll learn to:
• Create layered characters by considering personality traits, natural attributes, and backgrounds
• Develop your character's emotional journey and tie it to your plot's inciting incident
• Construct a three-act story structure that can complement and sustain your character arc
• Expose character backstory in a manner that accentuates plot points
Seamlessly intertwine plot and character to create a compelling page-turner filled with characters to whom readers can't help but relate
• And much more

Filled with helpful examples and friendly instruction, Plot Versus Character takes the guesswork out of creating great fiction by giving you the tools you need to inject life into your characters and momentum into your plots.

272 pages, Paperback

First published October 13, 2010

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Jeff Gerke

32 books58 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,468 reviews379 followers
January 14, 2023
This book had many great tips and an excellent breakdown setup approach.

It was beneficial in my Speculative Fiction class at SNHU.

I did feel that some parts got a BIT long-winded, but still a great resource to come back to again and again.

4 Solid Stars
Profile Image for Nayad Monroe.
Author 10 books62 followers
June 24, 2011
This book's premise is that writers can be divided into two groups: those who naturally consider character first when creating a novel, and those who consider plot first. The idea is to understand which area is one's strength, and then learn how to improve on the other. The book explains both character development and plot development in detail. It offers a basic framework for each, and shows how a character's inner journey can work with the external plot to create a strong, interesting book with emotional depth. No book could teach writers how to create every possible kind of novel, but this one shows a good starting point from which a writer could work toward creating more complex fictional structures. It has already been an extremely helpful book for me, especially for imagining characters, and I'm sure I'll continue to use it and assimilate the ideas it contains.
Profile Image for Thomas Edmund.
881 reviews50 followers
November 26, 2013
I was very interested to get a chance to read Plot Vs Character after enjoying 50 first pages (a later product from Gerke) It is with some irony that PVC starts awkward and repetitive, I didn't count how many times Gerke tried to convince be that EITHER YOU ARE PLOT OR CHARACTER DRIVEN but if he used one more metaphor, I may have been paying my brovis for a new book.

Luckily after the intro the book improves. G does do a good job stitching the ideas of character and plot to a coherent whole. The majority of the content seems focused on character, and was somewhat bogged down in Myers-Briggs personality analysis, a method of generated characters which I felt was a little contrived and dry (that may just be my type tho)

The second half of the character section and the plot section improved. Overall I think this is a good book to pick up if you're just starting as a good intro to creative writing, but is a little analogy heavy and light on inspiration and technique.
Profile Image for Ronie.
Author 48 books1,045 followers
November 26, 2010
Plot vs Character by Gerke is a handy book for both the plot-first author and the character-first author. The book is meaty and thought-provoking, guiding writers through developing both the character and the plot of your story. Gerke teaches at conferences around the U.S. and years ago, he helped me in my own writing, specifically learning the "three act structure," which he covers in-depth in this book as well. This is a very well-rounded book to help any author at any stage cement the foundation of their stories and characters.

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Margaret Metz.
415 reviews9 followers
May 31, 2013
I love the way Jeff Gerke writes. It feels like I'm having a conversation with him. It's also great the way he provides a lot of examples from books and movies to illustrate his points.

I think I am more of a panster than a plotter, but this gave me insight on what it takes to have a great story filled with amazing characters. It's a terrific reference and I will probably come back to it often.
Profile Image for Kristen Stieffel.
Author 25 books42 followers
November 11, 2014
This book is a must-read for novelists. Whether your strength is characterization or plot, this book will help you manage your weakness by developing the other. I re-read the second half of this book (plot) every time I start a new book, because plotting is my weakness. I always come away with a ton of ideas that will strengthen the story and make it more engaging to readers.
Profile Image for Saraina Whitney.
Author 1 book22 followers
August 23, 2021
Very helpful and comprehensive book with a lot of examples to demonstrate points. It's one I go back to every now and then when I'm like, I don't know what I'm doing. Even if I don't exactly follow the method, the concepts and principles behind the methods really stick with me. I'd recommend this to any fiction writer.
Profile Image for Andrew LeBlanc.
10 reviews1 follower
October 16, 2020
Books like this are all more or less the same. If you trimmed all of the padding (and they are all at least 75% fiberfill), all of these books would be exactly the same. You could probably skim one of these exactly once in your whole life, and get something out of it, but beyond that, they probably harm more than they help. I made the mistake of reading two books like this at once, and I think I've damaged my brain. I'm also going to have a heck of a time remembering the specifics, because the two books have blurred completely together.

All of these books have a gimmick. In this case, it's Everyone is Either a Plot Guy or a Character Guy! But With This Book, You Can Be a Both Guy!

Once the gimmick is out of the way, the formula is basically universal.

1) Come up with a character
2) Plot out the character's emotional arc
3) Plot out a plot that makes the character's emotional arc happen
4) (Don't) write the book

This version of this kind of book was pretty okay. The author references his own books a lot, and I have no idea what any of them are. He references one of his own books that's apparently about a Doctor who gets caught up in a battle with "the abortion industry" which... I mean, I was disturbed *and* fascinated, but I wasn't able to able to find the title of this novel with any amount of googling. I want to read that book *and* the sequel, where, I assume, the hero gets into it with "big abortion", which I imagine is something the author of this book also believes in. Like, an abortion Monsanto, with their patented genetically engineered abortions are invading the crops of hardworking American farmers.


There's some novel approaches to character creation in here, particularly the recommendation of Please Understand Me II and use of Myers-Briggs personality types to come up with "core" personalities, upon which all the biography and trivia gets layered.
Profile Image for Sarah Sundin.
Author 17 books2,639 followers
October 13, 2011
In Plot vs. Character, Jeff Gerke puts a new spin on writing while still creating a book that would be excellent for new writers. Rather than telling all writers to work one way, Gerke recognizes our inherent differences and helps us learn from each other. This character-driven writer found great new ways to look at plotting while strengthening character development as well. I know I've found a good craft book when story ideas ricochet in my brain, and they did while reading Plot vs. Character. An excellent addition to any fiction writers bookshelf.
Profile Image for Angela.
374 reviews6 followers
January 11, 2016
I gleaned so much from this book. It's one to keep on the shelf for sure and I know I'll be referencing it as I plunge into my novel writing. Full of examples and opportunities for brainstorming. Highly recommend to anyone wanting to write a novel.
Profile Image for Em Kennedy.
Author 9 books17 followers
July 5, 2017
It had some good points, but rambled on so badly. Very difficult to read. I picked it up to help me develop better plots for my fiction books, but I can't say it really helped. A different kind of book, though. Unique.
444 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2021
I read through other readers' reviews before settling on a star rating for mine. Of course, may people loved it (5 stars) or not, but saw some value in it (3 stars), or missed the point or got caught up in other stuff (less than 3 stars).

While I'm in my early stages as a writer, I'm on the wrong side of 55, but good side of 60. Thus, I've been around the block a few times and have read a book or two in my life.

I have to say that I really enjoyed Plot Versus Character because it made me consider in a good way some of how I think I should go about writing my first book. As I have a Logistics and military background, and neither gets up in the morning without a plan, I would have to label myself as a plot person. Gerke covers that very well.

What was a bit of a revelation for me what not the need to look at character, but the depth. I had given some thought to much of what the author mentions, but nowhere near to the level of understanding that Gerke does. I think that will make my novel, should it ever see the light of day, much stronger than it would have been without reading this book.

So what kept me from five stars? Well, while I have a Master of Arts in War Studies (think history and a whole lot more) and like to think that I have a decent vocabulary, you can't toss words like malapropism, pertinacity, verisimilitude, and a few others for people learning the ropes. All I can say is that I love my Google Home as she knows all the meanings and how to use them. It is not wrong, just annoying. But they were all used correctly. As others have noted, I did find some points repetitive. I get using repetition to drive a point home, but I don't want a nail through the forehead kind of repetition. I thought that there was not as much repetition as other reviewers alluded to.

I did like the diagrams and did find the format helpful as it laid things out in a logical sequence.

Overall, I thought that the book will be very helpful in my journey to become a published author. I can see this book being pulled out whenever I think something is missing or as a checklist to make sure I have all the elements that are needed for a great book. I thought it was well worth the time spent reading it and recommend it to others.
Profile Image for Cultivar.
3 reviews13 followers
August 22, 2018
Plot Versus Character: A Balanced approach to Writing Great Fiction, by Jeff Gerke,
reviewed by Cultivar, The How-to-write-a book blog https://cultivar.info

This is a case where, the writing is simple to the point of basic, and the author, or author’s voice, truly annoys me, but there is still some wonderfully valuable information. Primarily, that both matter, and a novel that neglects one of these areas will really suffer.

Just understand that you’ll have to sift through gems like, “Humans are Religious” and “Get Wacky!” Yes, with an exclamation point. Indeed.

The greatest value for me, was how he learned to transform his boring, flatly written characters, into believable people.

As an introvert, I feel like I need some major insights into human behavior, and was relieved to come across this information. The author discusses a psychology book, Please Understand Me ll, by David Keirsey. This book uses Myers-Briggs personality profiles / temperament classifications (of which there are 16) to establish a base layer, and then recommends layering more specific and topical traits upon this core.

Interesting. Specific, reality-based, and actionable. This provides a solid foundation, and removes a bit of anxiety. The author references 2 other books, 45 Master Characters, by Victoria Schmidt, and The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein, PhD.

Next, there is a misguided chapter on writing confusing dialogue. I understand where he’s going —don’t be literal— but he way overshoots. Then, some advice about how your protagonist should both be likeable, and have a problem to solve.

Which brings us to the part of the book, where I stopped reading the book.


For more 'how to write' reviews, please visit https://cultivar.info
Profile Image for PhilomathicJ.
117 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2021
This book almost lost me 38 pages in, during the "Race and Ethnicity" subsection, when it became painfully obvious that a white dude had written it. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with a white author. But when a cringe-y section is what clues you in... that's not great.

I stuck with it, though, and I'm glad I did. My writing "education" has been the act of reading tons of books. I've got nothing formal under my belt, other than some standard English classes, so some more pointed instruction felt like a good idea. I was running on pure instinct with the book I'm currently writing (my first, and hopefully not my last).

As luck would have it, my instincts were pretty good, but by no means perfect. This book helped highlight some weaknesses and mistakes, which has already been helpful. And while I didn't agree with everything in the book, even the act of disagreeing tended to solidify something or another in my mind. Hell, by the end of the book I was having trouble maintaining focus because I couldn't stop thinking about my story (that's meant to be a "yay, it got my creative juices flowing" statement rather than "this was boring" potshot).

Are there better options than this out there? Probably. But this is the one I knew about (via a friend), and it was definitely a net positive for me. Looking forward to diving back into my story with a better feel for what I'm trying to accomplish.
Profile Image for Debra Daniels-Zeller.
Author 2 books10 followers
January 4, 2018
I've read so many books about writing fiction that finding a gem in the same advice is getting difficult but Jeff Gerke has written about character and plot in a unique way. This book is divided into character and plot. Gerke tackles character first because you can't have plot without knowing your characters. I liked his sections on "the knot" or your main character's dilemma or problem, how to find it and how it affects the "moment of truth" a character faces. Also, this book stands out from others because it's filled with valuable insights and not pages and pages of novel excerpts as examples. I can read novels on my own for examples. He has a questionaire about the character's "knot," and later in the section on plot he weaves in theme and message based on character. As the character progresses in the novel, how is theme reflected? Then in the end, Gerke moves from map to manuscript in a useful way. This book is a keeper on my writer's bookshelf
Profile Image for David.
Author 26 books165 followers
December 29, 2017
Plot versus character is a very interesting and useful work for a novelist who is just beginning. It is less useful for established authors, however, it is valuable to consider the role of character and plot as they interact.

The author has an interesting style that is part conversational and part a irreverent. This is a quick read and there isn't too much filler.

Rating: three out of five stars.
Profile Image for Michelle Cornish.
Author 22 books84 followers
July 18, 2020
I read The Irresistible Novel also by Jeff Gerke, and it was so good I wanted to read more of Jeff's craft books. This one did not disappoint. I'm still not sure if I'm a plot first or character first writer, but this book opened my eyes to new ideas in both areas. I can't wait to start planning my next book! Jeff offers many tips for improving character arcs as well as what's happening in your story so that character and plot combine to form the best story possible.
86 reviews
August 31, 2018
A system, but not a strict one

This book kept getting recommended to me so I bought it and read it. I followed the exercises for a new project and I definitely like the results. I hope I get the opportunity to take the author's class in person, but in th meantime the book introduces the complete system.
Profile Image for Myranda Johnson.
32 reviews
January 31, 2023
It was a blast following along with this book and taking notes for the story I'm working on!

A lot of the character exercises reminded me of stuff I'd do when working on a role for a play and the revelation that I could use those same exercises for writing made me so happy.

Well! Writing time, then!
Profile Image for Colleen MacFarlane.
Author 4 books6 followers
July 7, 2021
Very simply written and easy read; but chocked full of gems and useful must-have information. My writing teacher recommended the book to all of the students. Glad I took her advice; very much worth the read.
Profile Image for Bonni.
699 reviews
July 5, 2022
This is a helpful reference book for anybody new to writing fiction. My life has taken some turns that prevent me from delving deeper into my writing interests, so even though I'm almost halfway through, I'm going to set it aside.
Profile Image for Steven.
141 reviews6 followers
January 3, 2016
This is a fairly well-written book about how to write fiction. The author, Jeff Gerke, provides good advice about two different areas -- how to create good characters, and how to create a good plot.

Gerke begins by positing, and I would say I agree, that all writers fall into one of two basic types: plot-based or character-based. For plot-based writers, the external events of the story (i.e., the plot) come easily, but crafting good characters is difficult. For character-based writers, making realistic, believable characters with interesting inner journeys is easy, but building an external plot to entertain the reader is difficult.

Gerke, who admits he is a plot-based novelist, then provides a very good explanation of how to include both in your writing -- good, believable characters who undergo an inner journey, and an interesting and exciting plot that keeps the reader turning pages. He explains all the basic concepts that one would encounter in a typical writing class or book about writing.

But what sets this book apart from all others I have read, except perhaps Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, of whose writing Gerke strongly reminds me, is that Greke provides the budding writer with a set of methods to actually accomplish the goals he sets out. For example, he doesn't just tell you "your character needs to be realistic;" he provides you with a whole chapter on how to make the character be realistic. He doesn't just tell you that Act I is "where all the important stuff is introduced," but he provides you with a list of items you should consult to make sure your Act I is doing what it is supposed to do. In each chapter, he suggests exercises the reader can do to develop the novel. If you follow each exercise, by the end, you will have a well-plotted novel with a set of interesting characters and a protagonist whose inner journey meshes well with the external plot.

As a consequence, this book is one of the few I have encountered about writing (with Save the Cat! being the other) that actually gives the budding novelist actionable advice. I have not yet tried Gerke's system (I have read this book over a holiday without any real ability to start writing a novel or keep notes or doing extensive research), but I plan to put it into action in the near future, and I have no doubt it will help -- because it already has.

In many ways, Gerke's system reminds me of Snyder's from Save the Cat!, as I have said above. The main difference is that Snyder's book is almost entirely focused on how to achieve the plot -- the external journey of the character. He mentions the inner journey and addresses it in a chapter or two, but he does not spend anywhere near the number of pages on how to build a good one and flesh it out that Gerke does. Snyder's process is also a good deal more formulaic. For example, Gerke takes a dim view of telling people that Act I should be over on a certain page, whereas Snyder clearly tells the reader on which page each event should happen (to be fair, Snyder is explaining how to write a 110-page standard-length movie script, and Gerke is talking about writing an open-ended novel). But overall, their advice is remarkably similar.

Interestingly, at least half of Gerke's examples come from movies rather than novels. I suppose in part, he does this because he can be more sure people have seen Star Wars or Titanic (since almost everyone has) than he can be that they have read Lord of the Flies. I don't have an issue with this, although some readers might be bothered by it.

But perhaps my favorite bit of advice that Gerke provides, which I have seen nowhere else and which, in fact, many other advice books (including Save the Cat!) contradict, is that one should not worry about the length of each act in a 3-act structure. It's OK, he says, if it takes half of the book to get through Act I. As I began to think about other stories I have loved, I noticed that a few of them have very long first acts as well. Thus Gerke states explicitly what I have always intuited, and it is something that has bothered me about the advice of other books on 3-act structure.

Overall, this is one of the most helpful books on writing I have encountered so far (and I've read at least 10 of them, if not more). One a very basic level, Gerke doesn't say anything you probably haven't heard a thousand times before if you are a budding writer - all characters in a novel should be realistic and not stereotypes; the protagonist needs to change in a major way; there should be a "ticking time bomb" to force the plot forward; the external and internal struggles should be related. But the difference between this book and all the other places where you receive such advice is that Gerke doesn't just tell you that you need it, and perhaps provide examples of other books/movies that have it -- he shows you how you can put those things into your story, and provides you with a series of exercises and assignments designed to help you do it.

If I could recommend only one book on how to write, this would be it. I have found it immensely helpful and well worth the purchase prices.
Profile Image for Nicole.
4 reviews10 followers
April 24, 2020
This is a FAN-TAS-TIC book for aspiring novelists. I highly recommend!
Profile Image for Akku Noetis.
108 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2021
Every author who wants to improve in character building or creating a plot to arc a character through should read. Golden.
Profile Image for Karin.
Author 3 books124 followers
September 9, 2016
Gerke begins by identifying novelists as one of two types: character-focused and plot-focused writers. By focusing on one aspect and ignoring the other, however, Plot vs Characterwriters often end up with one of two stories: rich, interesting characters who do nothing, or stereotypical, shallow characters saving the world. Though he encourages readers to know which type of writer they are, Gerke’s book discusses both sides and is mapped out to take a writer through the entire process – from character development to the denouement – in order to create a well-rounded novel.

The first section of the book – Memorable Characters – walks you through character development. Gerke starts with Core Personality and Physical Attributes, digs into the character psyche to find The Knot (core issue/struggle), and takes you right to The Final State. It’s more than just knowing whether or not your hero is an introvert. Gerke looks at the complete inner workings of your characters. He shows you the steps to take to find out every little cog that makes them tick. By the time you finish, you’ll know your characters better than you know your spouse.

The second section – Marvelous Plots – looks at the external components of the story: the plot. Using a traditional Three Act layout, Gerke takes the information from section one and shows you how to weave your Memorable Characters into the Marvelous Plots. He shows, using numerous examples from books and movies, how characters and plot work together, complimenting each other to tell a captivating story.

Plot Versus Character is easy to read and hard to put down. I kept a notepad beside me, writing down ideas and concerns that I have for my current work-in-progress. This is not a beginner’s craft book. Gerke doesn’t discuss Point-Of-View or Show vs. Tell. This book is more for the writer working on the story, as opposed to the writer working on the writing. He digs deeper and challenges his readers to not just write stories about people, but to write gripping stories about realistic people. A must-read for any novelist. I’ll be reading it again soon.
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