Thursday, 5 October 2017

Plot Driven or Character Driven?

A blog interview question asking ‘Are you plot driven or character driven?’ made me wonder what the difference is between these.

One definition I found was that ‘character driven’ means the story concentrates on characterisation, internal conflict, and relationships, with the characters changing an attitude or otherwise resolving a personal problem. ‘Plot driven’ seems to describe stories with more emphasis on plot twists, external conflict, and action. The goal in these is to win, escape, or change a situation.

At first glance, it’s easy to say ‘character driven’ applies to romances, while ‘plot driven’ applies to mysteries or thrillers.

However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. A romance story which only concentrates on internal agonising and/or problems in a developing relationship can soon become tedious. A thriller or mystery, with no characterisation of the protagonists, soon becomes a puppet show, where the characters are jerked around with lots of action, but no motivation or emotions.

I believe we have to combine the two aspects to create a good story, whether it’s a romance or a thriller. We need the ‘real’ characters of the character driven stories, with their hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. Yes, they may have internal conflicts to resolve, they may need to change an attitude or learn some kind of lesson. But if they are only doing this within the confines of a developing relationship, with not much else happening to influence them or show them the way, it won’t be a very interesting story, unless your reader is interested in the psychology of relationships and the inner workings  of your characters’ minds.

Therefore we need the plot twists, and the external events to keep the reader turning the pages.

Would ‘Gone With the Wind’ have worked if it had just shown the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett in peaceful, uneventful times?

Would a Civil War story work if we didn’t get involved in the characters’ lives and loves?

To my mind, stories need to be both character driven and plot driven. I start mine with the growing seed of a situation/plot into which I throw my characters. After that, plot and characters develop equally and interact throughout the story.

How about you? Are you plot driven or character driven?


  1. I agree. It should be both when writing fiction. If it's purely plot driven, it might as well be a documentary or nonfiction book. If it's purely characters, they have no reason to wait so long to get together (romance). We have to have both great characters and an interesting story (plot) that shows us the meeting, the challenges, and the resolution. Like the old song goes, "You can't have one without the other" :-)

    1. Agree, but I have read 'romances' where the whole story revolves around the ongoing problems in the relationship, so that in the end I wanted to bang the characters' head together! At the opposite end of the spectrum are the 'action' stories where the characters are just names, not people you can get to know.

  2. Absolutely agree with you and Kemberlee. I think there should be a balance of both. Carol

    1. Yes, I think the balance is essential :-)

  3. Interesting discussion - has got me thinking ...

  4. I agree. The plot is the story of the characters inner and outer journey.