Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Four Kinds of Books

Still Life with Books and Candle  - Henri Matisse

We're all aware that not all novels are alike, we have fantasy books, historical fiction, mysteries, romances, sci-fis, Christian fiction, atheist fiction, Zoroastrian fiction (well perhaps not that) and all sorts of other delightful genres. However, in all honesty, most books can be boiled down to four different types, character based novels, plot based novels,

The Character Based Novel. 

I would argue that this is the most important type of novel. In all honesty in order to for a novel to be truly great it usually has to be character based to a certain extent. There are exceptions to this rule, but most nine times out of ten, a classic novel is a classic because of it's characters. Imagine Lord of the Rings without Gandalf or A Christmas Carol without Scrooge. It can't be done. The plot relies intrinsically on the characters who act in it. Most great writing relies on character building. This is because humans tend to be more interested in other humans, then they are in plots, otherworlds or allegory. People are interested in people.

The Plot Based Novel 

Some political fiction, action novels, mysteries and romances run more on plot then they do on character. An example perhaps would be Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, none of the characters are particularly memorable, however the plot it well known even to people who haven't read or seen the movie. Plot based novels make quite a bit of money every year and are often the kind of novels seen on the New York Time's Bestsellers list. However very few of these novels ever become classics. The reason being is that once a plot based book is read, the plot is over, it's resolution is discovered and the suspense cannot be recaptured. 

World Based Novels 

A lot of what might be called 'hard' science fiction falls into this category as well as some historical fiction, as well as a few fantasy books. World based novels run on neither character nor plot, but is centered on describing a world, whether real or imaginary to the audience. World based novels comes the closest to non-fiction in style of writing, because their primary goal is not to describe people, but the world they (or some other race of beings) live in.  The works of Issac Asimov would be examples of world based novels.


Most world based novels, at least if they take themselves somewhat seriously, tend towards allegory. I don't think I really need to describe allegory for anyone here, but just in case, I'll describe allegory as trying to describe one story, by using another to represent it. Here, neither the character, plot, or the world is the most important, but rather the deeper meaning behind the story. Animal Farm and Pilgrim's Progress would be examples of allegory.

So those are the four kinds of books. Which one would you say you prefer most?


  1. I think I'm equally balanced between plot and character based books. (Although it's great if you jag both, such as The Westing Game, there's one that nailed both sides) Books by Frank Peretti get you in by the plot, books by Janette Oke get you in by the characters. Characters that tug at my heart strings also get more points for being in the book. So yes, both those two for me. :D

  2. Well, if I pick up a book with nice characters but no plot, there's a chance I won't ever finish reading it. On the other hand, if there's a book with a really awesome, intense plot, but poorly made characters, I may find I don't really *care* much what happens--I don't know these people who are going through such hardship, so I don't think twice about deserting them.

    Awesome post, I love looking at the root of things like this. :D