Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Plot Driven or Character Driven?

Paula wonders whether we need to choose.

A blog interview question asking ‘Are your stories plot driven or character driven?’ made me wonder what the difference is between these.

One definition I found was that ‘character driven’ means the story concentrates on characterisation, internal conflict, and relationships, with the characters changing an attitude or otherwise resolving a personal problem. ‘Plot driven’ seems to describe stories with more emphasis on plot twists, external conflict, and action. The goal in these is to win, escape, or change a situation.

At first glance, it’s easy to say ‘character driven’ applies to romances, while ‘plot driven’ applies to mysteries or thrillers.

However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. A romance story which concentrates on internal agonising and/or problems in a developing relationship can soon become tedious. A thriller or mystery, with no characterisation of the protagonists, soon becomes a puppet show, where the characters are jerked around with lots of action, but no motivation or emotions.

I believe we have to combine the two aspects to create a good story, whether it’s a romance or a thriller. We need the ‘real’ characters of the character driven stories, with their hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. Yes, they may have internal conflicts to resolve, they may need to change an attitude or learn some kind of lesson. But if they are only doing this within the confines of a developing relationship, with not much else happening to influence them or hinder them, it won’t be a very interesting story, unless your reader is interested in the psychology of relationships and the inner workings  of your characters’ minds.

Therefore we need the plot twists, and the external action to keep the reader turning the pages.

Would ‘Gone With the Wind’ have worked if it had just shown the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett in peaceful, uneventful times? Would a Civil War story work if we didn’t get involved in the characters’ lives and loves?

To my mind, stories need to be both character driven and plot driven. I start mine with the growing seed of a situation/plot into which I throw my characters. After that, plot and characters develop equally and interact throughout the story.

How about you? Are you plot driven or character driven?

6 comments:

  1. I like the idea of combining the two. Makes for a much better, 3D story.

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    1. I agree. The best stories, IMO, combine the internal thoughts/emotions and developing relationship with the external activity and/or influences.

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  2. I definitely think a combination is best.

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    1. So glad you agree, Renee. I must admit I had started to doubt myself when I read a few articles about character versus plot driven stories. Thanks for visiting us here at HWH.

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  3. Definitely both. the character's drive the plot, in which they interact (change, fight, love, grow). To me, the characters steer the story car down the plot road--a lame description but it is KISS.

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    1. That's actually a very good description, Ana!

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