Hi, SEers! You’re with Mae, and I’m glad you’ve chosen to spend time with me. Today, I’d like to discuss plot-driven fiction vs. character-driven fiction. As writers (and readers) we have preferences, and each style has merit.
Situations and circumstance take center stage in a plot-driven story. The work is focused on events and happenings more so than the internal struggles of the characters. External conflict is key.
In a character-driven story, plot becomes secondary to the goals and motivations of the characters and character growth throughout the story. Deep POV and inner monologues work well in character driven fiction.
This is not to say that plot-driven fiction doesn’t rely on character development, and vice versa, only that the primary focus is different.
In a character-driven story, the reader is more likely to form an emotional bond with the protagonist. This is achieved through developing backstory (not all of which will play out in the novel), a strong character voice, plenty of conflict, and a intriguing character arc. The reader becomes invested in the character or characters who may begin to feel like friends or family. This is especially true in a longer work or series where characters have extended time and opportunity to reveal myriad sides of their personalities.
Plot-driven stories rely heavily on action or external conflicts that force characters to react quickly to a given situation. As an author you’re more likely to rely on outlining and plotting in advance. Murder mysteries, science-fiction, and adventure stories often fall into this category. Jurassic Park is one popular example of a plot-driven novel, and definitely one that forces the characters to respond on the fly.
Yet, when I think about Jurassic Park, my memory goes beyond rampaging dinosaurs and dramatic escapes. I also remember the growth of the characters, especially Dr. Grant and how his opinion of children changed by the end of the book.
Still Life with Crows, is the first Special Agent Pendergast novel I read (out of sequence, it’s actually number four) which to this day remains one of my favorites. It’s a plot-driven book, yet also the novel that hooked me on the character of Aloysius Pendergast. How did that happen in a plot-driven story? Sure, I remember the plot—an excellent one—but it’s the character who made one heck of a lasting impression!
On the flip side, Station Eleven a highly-touted character-driven work left me feeling disappointed when it didn’t live up to the hype.
Where the Crawdads Sing is another character-driven bestseller. This one, I loved, but I can also see aspects of the detailed plotting that went into it, especially toward the latter half of the book.
As a reader, I am more likely to stick with a character-driven novel than a plot-driven novel if the story doesn’t immediately grab me. There’s more opportunity to develop the emotional bond I crave when reading. My own takeaway is to think of plot as the gloss on the surface, character-driven as the guts underneath.
What about you? Do you have a preference or examples you’d like to share? Are you a character-driven writer or a plot-driven writer? The great thing about fiction is that there is no right or wrong answer, and there are plenty of readers for both styles. Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.
Ready, set, go!