Friday, June 12, 2009

Novel Writing - Character Driven or Plot Driven

Hi all,

It is time to continue with my series on novel writing. Before I delve into characters, I wanted to hit on the important topic of Plot. we go.

There is more to novel writing than coming up with a plot. The story has to have a beginning, middle and an end plus a conflict and a resolution. And, of course, the story is nothing without the characters. As you take your idea and form the story, you need to keep in mind that a story can be either plot driven or character driven. Here is the difference between the two.

Plot Driven Story

A plot driven story is more about the story line and the action than about the characters. While you need characters to drive the story, in truth it doesn't really matter who they are and where they come from. The story is more important than knowing what the characters are wearing, how they are feeling about lunch that day or what their childhood was like. These characters are usually drawn into the story via the plot - wrong place, wrong time. Generally, plot driven stories are action stories where the excitement is in the action.

For example: In both of Dan Brown's books, The DeVinci Code and Angels and Demons, the stories are driven by the plot. Unfortunately, the characters are just shadows running around doing the bidding of the plot to solve the mystery. Robert Langdon, the main character in both of these books, is really just there to move the story along. We only learn a few sketchy details of his past and his life now, just enough to add to the plot and keep it moving. We don't know everything about his childhood, or his love life or how he feels about current politics. We do know his expertise and the fact that he loves to solve a puzzle. This is what you'd call a plot driven story.

Character Driven Story

A character driven story is one in which the plot is formed around the life of the character. Her dreams, desires, goals and fears are all of what makes the plot move. Generally the character's life is going along as normal until something happens to disturb that life and a resolution has to be made so the character can be happy or move on with her life. By the end of the story we know everything about her as if she were a close relative or friend and we even hate to say good-bye. The action is in what drives the character to a conclusion, not in the plot surrounding the character.

For example: Almost every one of Danielle Steel's novels are character driven. Where the character lives or the time period (although she does place many novels in the WWII era so time period is significant) really doesn't matter as much as what is going on in the character's life. The character's feelings, love, loss, love again are mostly what drive the story. In another example, drawing back into time, the novel Jane Eyre is also a character driven story. Jane's life is explained to us in detail so that by the time she goes off to work for Mr. Rochester we know her completely and are cheering for her to have a happy ending. The place or time period, while intriguing, could have been set anytime, anyplace because it is Jane we fall in love with and hope for a positive conclusion.

So, as you begin to develop your plot and characters, you will want to think about whether or not the story is about the action or the characters.

My next post in this series will be on Character Development. I hope these posts will help you as you start, or get back into writing your novels.

Happy writing,



  1. Great post--thank you.

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  2. Thank you for clearly explaining the difference. I've had a hard time understanding--now I get it. :o)


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