Character vs Plot Driven Stories

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November has ended and with it a lot of lessons have been learned. The experiment of attempting 50k in 30 days has been an interesting adventure. Next Wednesday I will expand further on the many challenges we faced and how we adapted to handle them. Today though I wanted to dive into the particulars of how to handle the backbone or drive of your story.

I mentioned before that we were going to attempt to take on two individual stories instead of a collaboration this time around. Because of this decision our methods of outlining, prepping and writing took a different course. By the time we were knee deep in our narratives we realized that our stories were driven by two very different factors. Jei’s ended up being character driven and mine very plot driven. This realization led to a long discussion about the difference and how we could utilize that information to our advantage.

 

Character & Plot Driven Definitions

We first had to figure out the difference between a character and plot driven story. These are the definitions we came up with after some research is:

Character Driven Story: A story in which the narrative is reliant on the main character(s) presence and interaction. This is about them, their development and the story they are currently living through.

Plot Driven Story: A story in which an over arcing plot has scooped up a character(s) and is taking them along for the ride. This is about the story itself and not necessarily about the characters within it.

A popular example of a character driven story would be the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher where the character, Harry Dresden, has to face the trials and tribulations of his life as a wizard. You follow Harry exclusively throughout the books and watch as he develops as a person.

A popular example of a plot driven story would be Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien where you follow a band of characters through a world quest. What makes this plot driven instead of character driven is the fact that if Frodo had not gotten the ring, someone else would have and events still would have unraveled. The book is centered around the fate of the One Ring.

 

How to Identify Character or Plot Driven

After we sorted out the definition we had to sort out how to identify if our stories were Character or Plot Driven. Here was our method of determining which one we were dealing with.

Character Driven

Remove the character from your story and see how well the plot holds up. If the heart of your story falls to pieces, your narrative is character driven.

Replace the character with a different character and see if the plot remains the same. If it changes to a completely different story, your narrative is character driven.

Plot Driven

Replace one or more of your characters with alternative characters. If the story arc stays intact and only changes slightly in the sub plot area, your narrative is plot driven.

Remove one or more of your characters completely. If the story arc stays the same with only a small varying difference in sub plot or path to get to the heart of the story, your narrative is plot driven.

 

Character & Plot Driven Tips

After we determined what we were working with we then went over what was important in a character driven story versus a plot driven story and how it changed our method of storytelling. As we discussed each method we wrote down tips for ourselves.

Character Driven Plot Tips

Focus on what is important to the character and their narrative. Do not put in details that are unnecessary or cumbersome.

Make sure to have enough character personality and development to keep the reader engaged. They need to care about the character in some fashion to stick with the story.

Write only the world around the character that they interact with. While you may know the world inside and out, a reader wants to see it interacted with by the main character(s).

Plot Driven Tips

Don’t let yourself get hung up on too manu character factoids. While development is important and interesting characters are necessary, falling down a hole of a character’s life story derails the focus from the plot.

Always keep your theme in mind and make sure that every scene you put in there will further the main plot or a sub plot in some way.

While your world is important to the ambiance of your story and the feeling of the setting, lingering on the stack loads of details you have about your world can also derail the plot.

 

This exercise and research helped both Jei and I continue on with our stories through November. It also helped us come up with a new or better approach to our writing. One of the biggest things that we took away from our diving into Character vs Plot Driven Stories was that both are important. Having great characters and a good story no matter what your backbone is helps keep a reader engaged and allows them to fall head first into the creative world you’ve built. So while one may be your backbone, be sure not to neglect the other.

 

 

What other tips or tricks do you have for character or plot driven stories? We’d love to hear any kind of feedback in the comments!

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