Plot & Structure Exercise 31: Top Ten and their Plots

Make a list of your favorite novels. Put down at least ten titles. Now look at the list. Is there a similarity to them? Are they heavy on plot and action, or do you prefer more character-driven books? Or is there a mix? . . . Take this into account in choosing a system. You should be writing the type of novel you most like to read.


Thanks, Mr B! I think I’ve written this list a dozen times on this blog, in emails to friends, and all over the place. Yet I always find myself at a blank when I start writing the list over. Maybe the books change. Not sure. But let’s explore. Here they are, my top ten, with a mini-analysis.


. . .


Anna Karenina, Tolstoy — blended between dense plot and fully formed characters, the model of ideal

El principito, St Exupery — leaning toward character driven, with unexpected plot turns and a resonant conclusion

Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky — heavy lean on characters, with introspection, more discourse than dialogue, but still LOCK-motivated

Women, Bukowski — wholly character driven, hilarious, with unexpected and improbable events

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig — mostly character driven, with a tight, thin tread pulling the events together

The Neapolitan Quartet, Ferrante — strong plot, with interesting characters, but it’s their actions that fascinate me

Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis — interesting plot, but mostly strong incredible characters

Twelve Chairs, Ilf and Petrov — strong plot, humorous events, and engaging narrative

Cien años de soledad, Márquez — strong plot, strong motivation, and incredible language

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran — ancillary plot, almost no characters, decent language, but deep beyond belief


In conclusion, it looks like I like novels that mix both plot and character, with a preference for the latter. A book needn’t even have either, if it can make it up in profundity. I will continue with my character-driven stories, allowing myself to write from the seat of my pants, yet with attention on improving the skill I need. Plotting. Twisting. Making my characters do cool stuff. Surprising the audience. Keeping people engaged. While holding true to who I am. A good guy writing good books for good people. PEACE!

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