What is driving your plot? You should have an idea about this sometime in the beginning of writing your manuscript. Did you know that all good writers purposely choose one of two ways to drive their story and keep readers motivated in reading? The two ways to drive a book forward are character driven stories and plot driven stories.
A character driven novel focuses on the main characters inner turmoil while dealing with a dilemma. A plot driven novel focuses more on the twists and turns of the plot to the point that the reader wonders how the plot will be completely revealed at the end.
First, let’s look at a character driven novel. Some genres focus more on the characters in a book than what the character is dealing with, such as Romance novels. The reader will more likely pay more attention to the character and how the character will survive their ordeal. These kinds of books spark more of a personal, emotional journey seen through the eyes of the main character in the book. The reader is also pulled further into the book by the main character’s personality, the decisions they make, and how the dilemma they’re faced with causes them to look within and make them realize they must change themselves in some way to survive. It is the decisions the main characters make that also drive the direction of the plot.
Let’s use The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin as an example. Remember when I said it’s the character’s decisions that drive the direction of the plot? In book one you are introduced to several characters. Let’s use one of my favorites, The Hound. He has an irascible temper and doesn’t like many people. He proves himself as vicious when he runs down a young boy with his horse. For good measure, let’s also throw in Cersai. She’s intelligent and smiles when she wickedest. She’s a very clever woman who loves nothing more than getting her way. Now think about The Hound. What if after he runs the young boy down with his horse then struggles with what he’s done and refuses to hurt anyone for any reason? Now think about Cersai. What if after she’s caught doing the unthinkable, she decides to become a spiritual, moral person? From these examples, can you see how a character’s decisions can change the entire plot of a book?
In a character driven novel, the main character has weaknesses that are exposed to the readers. The more conflict they face, these uncomfortable situations reshape them from an opponent with a weakness to an opponent with the possibility of victory. The readers are given each process of this transformation in a way that they began anticipating what will happen when the main character comes face to face with his enemy. It is the character’s personality, actions and decisions that motivates the reader.
Now let’s discuss a plot driven novel. A good example of this is a mystery or a police procedural novel. The characters in the book have less inner turmoil that they’re dealing with, and many times, they do not transform during the book, but stay the same. Their strengths are what readers love about them, or the intelligent way they dissect the situation they’re in and figure out a way to solve their problems. For sake of giving a book example, let’s use an author I have used several times in the past. Janet Evanovich writes the Stephanie Plum novels. Let’s also use Michael Connelly and his Bosch detective novels. In both book series, Stephanie and Bosch are always written the same way when it comes to personality. What readers focus on more is the hunting of these character’s enemies, and the twist and turns in the plot motivates them to keep reading.
In mystery novels, readers want to know who the killer is. They can care less if Brigit or Brittany is coping with bulimia. They want to know why a murder has taken place and the perpetrator that committed it. The plot will have ups and downs and moments where the reader may be unable to correctly guess what will happen next. This makes the characters in the book secondary, but although secondary, they are still important. The rush of excitement the reader gets is from the journey of the plot rather than a characters personal struggle that eventually leads to their transformation.
You might wonder if a book can be character driven and plot driven. In my opinion, no, because remember, a character driven story, the plot changes directions each time a character makes a decision, whereas with plot driven stories, the reader, in most cases, knows what they’re getting in the end. They know how the story’s going to end, with a captured killer or the mystery unsolved, but it’s the journey that leads them to the end that keeps them captivated, whereas with character drive novels, the reader, most times, can’t anticipate how the story will end, and on many occasions, the ending isn’t what the reader expected. Two good examples of this can be seen in the books Gone Girl and The Girl on a Train. What transformations both main characters went through! And the endings, wow! If you read the books, did you imagine them ending the way they did?
Now that you know this information, think about your story idea and decide which you will focus on: a character driven novel or a plot driven novel. Once you’ve made your decision, stick with it.
*sorry if any typos. I didn't have time to read over it.*
Until next time, keep writing! You can do it!
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