When you have that shining moment where a story idea pops into your head, what appears in your vision first? Do you think of some amazing hook or circumstance? Or do you think of a character you want to write about?
Most would agree that the best stories out there have some combination of being both plot driven and character driven, but usually one style dominates the other in a story. And often that is because the author has an innate preference of writing one way or the other.
For my first writing attempt, I tried to be plot driven. I thought that what I was supposed to do. But I struggled with that method--I was way more interested in my characters than the action scenes. So the result ended up falling short in both areas.
So for my next book, I worked with what came natural to me. Characters popped into my head. So I fleshed them out, then I created a plot around them. The result turned out much better (at least I think it did, lol.) This is also why I was able to scrap my plot last week for my new WIP and start over with the same characters but new story. If I had been a plot driven writer, I would have had to chuck everything. I think this is also why I still struggle with log lines, which are almost always about the plot hook not the characters. Of course, that may just be my excuse to comfort myself about my ineptitude in this area. :)
Now I'm not saying one is better than the other. Each can create wonderful stories and there should be elements of both in a book. However, I think it's important to be aware of what works best for you as a writer.
So what is the difference between plot-driven and character driven?
A character-driven story relies upon the decisions and emotions of characters to advance the plot. The decisions in a character-driven story produce “chain reactions” and conflict. The events, regardless of how many people they affect, are triggered by characters within the story.
An plot-driven story relies upon external events and circumstances to advance the plot. External events may be natural or human-initiated, as long as the initiator of the events is not a central character to the story. Natural disasters and wars serve as the foundations for many event-driven stories. (source)
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference is to think about what you remember about a book, movie, or TV show. Does anyone remember the main characters from Jurassic Park? How about naming all the plot points in Gone With the Wind?
And certain genres lend themselves to one or the other. Mysteries, Suspense, Thrillers, and Horror are usually predominantly plot-driven. Although, I will say that Stephen King does an excellent job of blending memorable plot and character (think The Shining, Carrie, Misery).
Literary fiction and women's fiction are usually character driven. I've seen Romance and YA all over the board with regards to this--although my favorites are usually character driven.
- Lost --Yes, there's a very unique external plot, but what do you love about this show?
- Sookie Stackhouse Books/True Blood --Charlaine Harris' books are full of plot, but I rarely remember the plots after a few weeks, but I definitely remember the characters.
- The Office
- How I Met Your Mother
- The Mortal Instruments series
- The Vampire Academy series
- The Silence of the Lambs (great plot, but that's not what sticks with me)
- Jurassic Park
- The DaVinci Code
- The Exorcist
- Tom Clancy books
- The Uglies series
- The Hunger Games
Because the best stories tend to combine these two, tomorrow I will talk about how to strengthen your skill at the type that doesn't come as naturally to you. In addition, I'll discuss the pitfalls of focusing too much on one style.
So which is your tendency--to write character-driven or plot driven? Which type do you prefer to read? What are some examples of books/movies you can think of that do a great job of being one or the other or combining both?