Monday, August 15, 2011

Plot vs. Character - Which Side Do You Cheer For?


Project: Falcons Rising
Pages Revised: 5
Pages Cut: 3.5
New Scenes: 3 --- 10 pages of new stuff. I love diving more deeply into old characters. I know them so well that elaborating on unexplored facets of their lives is easy and enjoyable.
Bad Things that Happened: The White Falcon discovers that his hero is just a man
Good Things that Happened: Arryk is free of his brother's torment -- for a little while


Character-driven vs. Plot-driven

To any good story, well-rounded characters are a necessity, but so is a plot. What's the difference between these two and what defines a story as one or the other? Can a story be both?

A character-driven story, as
described by speculative writer D. Lynn Frazier on her website, is a story in which "the character moves the story forward through action and choices. She initiates the events of the story and causes the events to happen. Each scene is instigated by the characters within it." Whereas plot-driven, also called Quest-driven or Action-driven is a story in which "the events ... move the story forward and cause the character to react to those events. Characters are secondary to the plot. They act in accordance with the plot and do not create events or situations on their own."

When I first started writing, not only did I not know what these terms meant, I didn't know these terms existed. I just wrote. Only later did I find out that the stories I was writing had to somehow fit into one definition or the other for purposes of pitching my ms to agents, editors, and the like. Or, in the least, I had to choose one or the other as the best definition for my work.

Many years later, I can happily say that I prefer to write character-driven fiction. If I get insanely bored while writing a story, often I will find that I've diverged somewhere into Plot-driven storytelling and left the characters behind. As much of an introvert as I am, it's the dynamics between people that keep me interested in what I'm writing.

Now, do my characters drive every event in every story? Certainly not. If events beyond my characters' control fail to happen, that's just unrealistic. Where was it that I read this? -- that the initial catalyst that gets the ball rolling may come outside your main characters, but after that, the story is driven by their reaction to that event. So a well-told story can certainly contain elements of both.

What do you think? Which do you prefer to read and/or write? Can you think of any examples of widely loved fiction that might be defined as both character-driven and plot-driven?

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