Pep Talk - WHRN 2009 - Character-driven vs. Plot-driven. FIGHT! by tiakall
*rings bell* And in this corner, we have the champion, Plot-driven stories!
- Plot-driven stories are the de facto of the fantasy realm, characterized primarily by a single plotline that ties all the elements of the story together.
- Examples include [u]The Lord of the Rings.[/u]
- It may or may not stick with the same main characters, and rotating or omniscient POVs are common. First person is very uncommon.
- As the name suggests, plot-driven stories primarily try to show off their plot, and so in this case it's important to make sure the plot is interesting and not over-cliched.
- Characterization follows the plot as opportunities for said characterization will largely arise from reacting to whatever the plot consists of. So characters can be constrained by the situations they have to react to in certain ways. For example, Frodo is not exactly the world-saving type, but is forced to go on a journey to do just that because of the circumstances he ends up in at the beginning of the trilogy.
- Plot-driven stories are easier to start and conclude because they have a set beginning and ending as defined by the plot.
And in the other corner, we have the underdog, Character-driven stories!
- Character-driven stories are not as common in fantasy, but are a staple of litfic, "slice of life" stories characterized primarily as a series of small events happening to one or a group of characters.
- Examples include Amy Tan's [u]The Joy Luck Club[/u].
- It usually sticks with a small, central cast, and is often limited to one or a few POVs. First person is not uncommon.
- Character-driven stories do NOT have a central plot, although they may have a central theme. They are usually a set of episodic events happening to the cast.
- They often do not have antangonists or villains.
- Plot follows the characterization; that is, what happens next is dependant on what the character would do. So it can be to your benefit to leave things open-ended in case the characterization ends up being different from what you planned.
- Character-driven stories are more difficult to start because of a lack of a book-wide plot. Usually these hit a climax with an important event that overshadows the smaller subplots in the story.
So, if you're coming from a litfic background and want to write a plot-driven story, you may feel a little lost. Fortunately for you, plot-driven stories are very easy to develop. All you need is a goal and a conflict. It can be as simple as "Sally must save the world and the evil Bob is trying to stop her." Conflicts don't have to be external--you could have a save-the-world with no "villain" at all, for example if the end of the world was being caused by environmental factors--but often are. You don't even have to develop your characters right off the bat: you can set up the main plot, decide on several plot points, and then consider what sort of character would best fit what you need to have them do.
On the other hand, if you're wanting to try something new and do a character-driven fantasy story, you might think it's too difficult. Not at all! A lot of character-driven fantasies are the "what if" type, such as "What if a guy who can see supernatural creatures opens up a counseling service for them?" A lot of the conflict of these types of stories are either internal (he starts having a crush on his receptionist) or between characters (he has a difficult orc customer), although they can be external, but are usually not encompassing the entire story (he has to pay the rent). Climactic events could be something like someone threatening to shut him down or him coming to a long-awaited realization. See, how hard was that? In these types of stories, it's more important to start with a solid character or group of characters rather than a plot or idea in mind, because your overall "plot" may be as simple as "they have adventures". While you can have a central theme in mind, it's not necessary, as your connecting factor through the story may be watching your main character mature and evolve.
Also, there's nothing to prevent you from semi-combining the two and doing a plot-driven story that is influenced by character-driving. This can do wonders for a plot that's not particularly twisty or surprising (such as save-the-worlds) if the characters are interesting. In fact, you may be able to drag up some plot twists depending on how your characters act. If you want to take that route, it is important to give your characters ample scenes/subplots to properly develop in while not slowing down the pace of the plot.
In this fight, everyone wins. :D