Character Driven vs. Plot Driven

2010
04.28

You always hear about character driven vs. plot driven stories, but there isn’t really one solid definition of what that means. There are several definitions out there, but they all describe via example and are often based on how you “feel” about the story.

I would like to suggest my definition, one that uses something concrete to come to a conclusion, instead of how it “feels.”

Before we get started, it is important to note that there are two things in play here… how the writer creates the story, and how the story was written.

How the story was written
Character driven and plot driven mean (in my opinion), “What is moving the story forward?” Hence… what is driving the story?

For clarity sake, think of it as reactive driving (plot driven) vs proactive driving (character driven). If the character makes decisions, of his own accord, and that moves the story forward… it is character driven. If things happen to the character, and he reacts to those things, it is plot driven. There may be examples of both in the story, but which ever there are more of is the winner 😉

This is not to be confused with the prevalence of character of plot (or lack thereof).

How the writer creates
If the writer lets the character call all of the shots, and throws no obstacles at the character, then they are trending toward a character driven story. If they throw obstacles at the characters, then let the character react on his own accord, they are trending toward a plot driven story.

There is nothing wrong with either. At all. Nor do I want to even imply that one is better.

My only concern with the former method is that it can be  more susceptible to a lack of plot, and that could be a problem. If you let the character run free and still develop a plot as you go, then there is nothing wrong with that. I would find it difficult to do, but others may not.

Going back to how the story “feels,” I want to introduce a new concept. Character Focused vs. Plot Focused.

If the development of the character outweighs the development of the plot, then it is character focused. If the development of the plot outweighs the development of the character, then it is plot focused. Even better, you can have a well balanced story, where both are developed well and equally.

Under no circumstance, can you omit both. You must have well developed characters. You must have a well developed plot. While it is true, you may have one stronger than the other that carries the story, you have to have them both.

A story with no character is a news report — boring.

A story with no plot is just learning about a character — less boring, but still not a story.

So, what say you, reader?

5 Responses to “Character Driven vs. Plot Driven”

  1. pdwright says:

    I am definitely a character centered writer. That said, almost all my stories are plot driven – it’s rare (though not impossible) to find scifi or fantasy novels that aren’t. I like the concept of character/plot focused. That makes me a more interesting author – I write plot driven stories that tend towards being character focused. 🙂

  2. Julie says:

    I think the above poster is right. You read scifi for the cool plot, but it feels like an extra added bonus if you love the characters.

  3. David Oliver says:

    I think you articulated an interesting clarification, and I think that every writer needs to cogitate on this for a while at some point in their writing. I think a lot of people begin a story with an interesting idea. I think they flesh out the story with interesting characters or an interesting world or in the best of cases both. I think that if a writer thinks upon this post; if they think about what they are trying to get out of their story ahead of time, both by impetus and focus, they can better assemble a well crafted story. Of course, sometimes it is fun to just create a few characters and see what they do when you lock them in a room together; it might not make the best of stories but it does allow for a better personal realization of the characters.

  4. Ivy says:

    I think it is important to look at the relationship between characters when deciding to call a work character driven. Characters strive to fulfill their wants and most of our wants include, or are influenced by the relationships we have with others. Thoughts?

  5. C. Michael Fontes says:

    Looking at character relationships is always important, though I am not sure it affects my definitions above.

    Also, characters are not always driven by their wants/desires. The anti-hero is a prime example of someone who does because they must, not because they desire.

    Thanks for reading my post!

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