There are all different ways to drive your story, but for me, it’s the characters. I love character-driven stories. They have characters that are three dimensional and memorable. They make the story “why” based, rather than “how” based.
Martha Alderson, an international plot consultant and the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers., describes it this way:
Broadly speaking, writers who prefer writing action-driven stories focus on logical thinking, rational analysis, and accuracy. Action-driven writers tend to rely more on the left side of their brain. These writers approach writing as a linear function and see the story in its parts. Action-driven writers like structure. They usually pre-plot or create an outline before writing. Action-driven writers have little trouble expressing themselves in words.
On the other hand, writers who write character-driven stories tend to focus on aesthetics and feelings, creativity and imagination. These writers access the right side of their brains and enjoy playing with the beauty of language. They are more intuitive, and like to work things out on the page. Character-driven writers are holistic and subjective. They can synthesize new information, but are somewhat (or more) disorganized and random. They see the story as the whole. Right brain writers may know what they mean, but often have trouble finding the right words.
While I don’t think I’m disorganized or random, I do agree in general with what Alderson says. My stories start out with the characters—who are they, what do they do and think, why do they do and think that, what would happen to them if I did this? I tend to develop scenes around a particular thought or emotion given by that character and then string those scenes together to make a story. Sometimes it works, and I end up with a complete manuscript. Other times, I have a great scene, but that’s about all.
I like to delve into the psychological reactions and reasons for what my characters do. What are the obstacles that are preventing the hero and heroine from getting together? For me, those obstacles are usually not tangible, external conflicts, but rather emotional or internal conflicts. I enjoy figuring out what they are and how to solve them—and it’s so much easier solving a fictional character’s neurosis than my own! J