Character driven vs. Plot driven fiction

You could read a slew of blogs or articles reporting on the differences between character driven and plot driven fiction. Some writers say plot driven fiction must occur when the characters are cardboard, emotionless, and undriven themselves. When the characters fall short, unable to move the events of the story by their own motivations, fears and desires, the plot must propel them forward. Others say character driven fiction is complex and churns inside the plot like the sun in our galaxy. They say when the plot fails to deliver, and the events are too stagnant or too forced, the characters must come to life in order for the story to take to the skies.

I’m sure there are arguments to be made on all accounts, but I’m not here to argue.

Someone asked me yesterday how to tell the difference between character driven and plot driven fiction.

For me I think it’s simple.

If I think back to books I’ve read, pencil to mouth, eyes to the heavens, certain parts of the story become clear. Was it Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca and her ever-present scowl? Was it the tattoo on Rhage’s back in Lover Eternal, twitching its scaly tail when preparing for battle or love? Or do I think of the murder of Mr. DeWinter’s wife and the subsequent trial? Do I think of what happened between A-Z of Rhage hooking up with “whatever her name was“?

That’s how I decide. If I can tell you the names of the characters, get a clear picture in my head of what they look like, and tell you their internal conflict YEARS after I’ve read the book, it’s probably character driven. If I remember the series of events leading to a particular climax, but forget the names of the characters or their conflicts that reached that point, it’s most likely plot driven.

Now, what about those books where you can remember both parts equally well? Either you have the brain of an elephant, in which case I’d like to borrow your brain someday (if you find a way to invent brain transplants or neurological stimulus transfer–my new name for the process–let me know)…where was I? Oh yeah, if you can remember both parts equally well, the characters and the tiny pieces of the plot, then you either have a great memory or it’s both and fun-fantastic writing.

If you think about that book you remember both aspects about, was it a NYT bestseller? I bet it was. Think about Harry Potter. You’ve got some characters or some scenes in mind, right? I bet you could break down the basic plot structure of the entire series given a few minutes and a cool drink. Think about Twilight. I bet you could do the same. Pride and Prejudice? Check. And pretty much any Nora Roberts novel will produce the same outcome.

That’s my goal, right there. Forget this character driven versus plot driven B.S. I want to write both equally well. At the same time. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind being the person who invented that brain transplant thingy-magoo either.


6 thoughts on “Character driven vs. Plot driven fiction

  1. i can think of a few examples (harry potter came to mind before you brought it up haha)and i have an award for you in my latest blog post! it's certainly relevant haha.

  2. For a second there, I thought the neurological stimulus transfer actually existed! You may be on to something here. :)I'm with you on this. I strive to write a great plot as well as fully fleshed out characters. It's not enough for me to read a book that's lacking in one department. Otherwise, I get bored. And I get bored easily when it comes to reading. Maybe I'm just a snob, but oh well.

  3. Aubree–thanks for the award! I'll post it on Monday along with more, overflowing gratitude.Amanda–in a previous life "scattered inventor" was my day job. I died from starvation. I'm much more focused now thank goodness–Oh, look, a kitty!If you need some good reads that'll guarantee not bore you, check out my shelfari. Those are only my favs. Happy reading! 🙂

  4. Hey!I just noticed that in your profile you listed The Circle Trilogy as one of your favorite books. I love Ted Dekker.Anyway-I'm giving away a copy of a book of the same genre, Christian Fantasy by authors Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. The book is called Venom and Song-you can read about the giveaway as well as my review on my blog below.Seth,

  5. Seth–I meant The Circle Trilogy by Nora Roberts: Morrigan's Cross, Dance of the Gods, Valley of Silence, although now I'll have to peruse amazon for the book you're talking about. *grin

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