There are many techniques to writing, and many angles from which a writer can establish her story, entertain the readership and pass her message across. We have given names to most of these techniques – generic names because it is never such a streamlined process – mostly in order to point out the way for each individual writer, so that she can know which approach generally leads to which end.
What is a plot-driven story?
“Plot-driven story” is used generically to refer to stories that focus on events. Writers who employ this strategy usually think first of the unfolding of events before looking at the qualities of the characters. They draw up a series of complicated or engaging events, often full of twists and turns that jerk the characters this way and that. Writers of plot-driven stories meticulously establish plot points, then tie them up to create a cohesive story. They are more interested in ideas than the people involved in them.
An example of a plot-driven story is George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian novel about an autocratic new world order ruled by an unseen “Big Brother”. The characters have very little impact on the reader, nor is their background expanded upon. Instead, the story is riveting due to the circumstances that they have found themselves in.
What is a Character-Driven Story?
A character-driven story focusses on character perspective and character psyche. In such a story, characters take centre stage. They are perfectly crafted and their unique attributes drive the story forward. The audience remember the story more for who the characters are than anything else.
Character-driven stories usually depict the characters involved in personal and interpersonal struggles, and their conquest of their inner demons usually leads to the resolution of the story. Character-driven stories are often endearing to the audience because they have the tendency to relate to the characters on a very personal level.
An example of a character-driven story is J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The story focusses on a quest to destroy the One Ring, which has the power to corrupt even the noblest. Each character has unique attributes and feelings that are deeply explored in the story. Their inner struggles and the struggle between good and evil are what drive the story forward. Even the One Ring itself has its own unique characteristics which are equally explored, and it is almost “alive”.
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When to Write a Plot-Driven or Character-Driven Story
The plot is the action of the story, and the characters are those who perform those actions. So, writing a plot-driven or character-driven story is all a matter of emphasis, really. It depends on the simple matter of whether you are focussing on the action itself or who took the action.
Does your story consist of intricate, exciting events which involve almost shadowy personas whose backgrounds and inner motivations are barely explored?
Or does it consist of realistic, three-dimensional individuals with their personal strengths and failings, whose choices and decisions create the momentum behind the narrative? For instance, in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliffe’s tumultuous love for Catherine drives most of the story’s events.
Do you want your readership to identify with your characters more than anything else? Or would you prefer a story that relegates characters to the background and concentrates on exciting and perhaps mysterious events?
Asking yourself these questions will lead to a veritable conclusion as to how you go about writing your story.