Whether you’re new to the writing world or not, you may have wrestled with the following question–should my story be plot or character-driven? Or, can it be both? The truth is there’s no right or wrong answer. All three pathways are open to you as a writer. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish with your story. Let’s take a closer look at each path.
Before we begin, however, it’s important to note that a successful story will demonstrate that the writer has developed both plot and character with equal attention and care. No matter which way the story leans.
The Plot-Driven Path
First, let’s establish what a plot-based story looks like. Plot-twists, external conflict, and a roller-coaster vibe comprise this type of story. You want a sense of urgency for your readers. They should feel like the action is coming at them from all angles. Thrillers, mysteries, and some Scifi and fantasy genres benefit from this writing choice.
The reader should get the sense that they are experiencing a large dose of action alongside the protagonist. In other words, a lot is happening around and to the characters, but not the other way around.
Ask yourself, could I easily replace my main character without changing the story? To clarify, if your main character is a thirty-something, middle-class male, could you replace this guy with a thirty-something female or a forty-something male without compromising the story? If so, you’re on a plot-driven path.
The Character-Driven Path
In this story, the conflict is internal and not so much external. You, the writer, are exploring the inner world of your characters. You’re allowing their stories to unfold based on their backstory and experiences. That’s not to say that you throw your plot out the window. On the contrary, plot development allows you to challenge your characters emotionally. You get to see how they’ll react to various external conflicts. However, the focus should always remain on the character and their arc/transformation.
Often, your readers will be more psychologically connected to the characters. Conversely, they’re less concerned with the plot which becomes secondary to the character’s emotional journey. The genres of romance, literary fiction, and short stories lend themselves well to a character-driven path.
An Avenue that Includes Both Plot and Character
Then there are stories that both plot and character are blended so well, they balance out one another. These stories tend to encompass a group of characters involved in an intricate series of events over a set period of time.
An excellent example of this is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. This novel delves deeply into the intricate backstories of six different characters. It even goes so far as to include a seventh character–the setting. Bardugo’s Ketterdam is a gritty city reminiscent of 1600’s Amsterdam and could easily serve as a world-building instruction manual for any writer. As for the plot, think seventeenth-century Oceans Eleven. This heist novel has many plot twists and turns while creating intimate emotional connections to the group of criminals at its core.
So, whatever you choose, there’s no right or wrong answer to the question of Plot or Character Driven? It’s really up to you and the story that you want to tell …