Posted in writing

Character vs. Plot Driven

When it comes to moving your story forward there are usually two driving forces: plot and character. Because each one drives the events in a story a little differently, this gives us plot-driven and character driven stories.

With plot-driven stories, the events drive each other forward. High taxes from the king cause a famine in the kingdom, which leads to bandits stealing from the rich nobles to help feed the poor. Cause and effect directly affect what happens next.  Often, plot-driven stories have a predictable outcome. The murder is solved, the couple gets married, etc.

Plot-driven stories often feature static characters.  Arguably if you replaced any of the characters in The Lord of the Rings you’d have largely the same story. The ring would still be destroyed, Aragorn (or his replacement) would still take the throne. This is because the events happening are more important than the character development.

With character-driven stories, the reactions to each event drive each other forward. The high taxes cause anger which causes riots, which causes a civil war, which leads to the division of the country. In this case, emotions and motivations push events forward. Endings can be a little harder to predict because they’re often focused on internal goals instead of external conflicts.

Because the focus on character-driven stories is heavier, they rely heavily on character arcs and development. In The Hobbit, replacing any of the characters gets a little trickier.  Replacing Bilbo leads to a few less questionable incidents (the trolls, anyone?). Replacing Thorin probably avoids the fight over the Arkenstone.

The main difference between character- and plot-driven stories is where the focus is. A story focused on external conflict lends itself more to a plot-driven structure. The conflict must be resolved in some manner, and as a result, events push forward to that inevitable resolution.  A character-driven story is less about the end goal and more about the changes a character goes through during the course of a story.

If you’re wondering which one is better, the answer is neither. As a writer you may find yourself preferring one style over the other, but neither character- nor plot-driven stands firm as a ‘better’ option. Nor are they mutually exclusive. Going back to The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit you can see that a character-driven story like the Hobbit gives way to a plot-driven story such as the Lord of the Rings.  If Bilbo never steals the ring, then the ring never needs destroying. And, as above, with high taxes and a famine sweeping the land from our plot-driven example, it makes sense for a motivated Robin Hood to start stealing to help his community.

Which storytelling style do you prefer to write?

Posted in books, Stories

Plot: Recovery of a Loved One

The recovery of a loved one scenario provides a goal right from the outset, which can make it useful for plot-driven stories. You can check out the other plot scenarios here.

  • A seeker attempts to find the lost one.

When thinking about roles and how your characters fill them, this breaks down pretty easily. You need the obvious two, your seeker, and the one lost. However, often the reasons why that one is lost creates the conflict. It could be that they are being held captive (tying in nicely with abduction plots), thus providing you with an antagonist. Alternately however, you may only have those two roles: the seeker and the lost one to fill as the seeker tries to understand what happened to the lost one.

Regardless of main or minor plot, a huge amount of the focus falls on what is being done in an attempt to find that lost one. This can make it massively useful for plot driven scenarios, but character motivation shouldn’t be overlooked. Think about why your seeker needs to find this lost one so much, and why this lost one might want or need to stay hidden.

Posted in writing

Plot: Faulty Judgement

In many ways, a faulty judgement scenario is very much like mistaken jealousy. However, in the case of faulty judgement the focus may be on the actions that need judging, rather than the outcome. You can check out the other plot scenarios here.

  • A judge passes blame onto the victim instead of the guilty as a result of error or interference.

This is another plot scenario that has a lot of roles to fill. However, in the case of faulty judgement, the guilty party might also be the cause of that interference or error. In some cases, you may want to include a fourth person as a source of that interference or error to give yourself some room for character motivation and growth.

Because the act of passing that faulty judgement can easily become your climax or resolution this fits in as a main plot nicely. It’s vital that the reasoning behind the judgement is clear, meaning the act itself can easily become either your climax or your resolution.

The caveat to that being that faulty judgement can also be used as a springboard to help launch other plots–you’ve already seen mistaken jealousy as one of them, but think about scenarios like revenge, petitioning, imprudence, deliverance and repentance. In this case, the act itself works nicely as an inciting incident and as a minor plot.

 

Posted in writing

Plot: Mistaken Jealousy

Mistaken jealousy takes a little bit to understand as a plot, but becomes a wonderful scenario for character and plot-driven stories once you do. You can check out the other plot scenarios here.

  • A jealous person covets a possession belonging to an accomplice due to the interference of an adversary or mistake.

Role-wise this is a busy and twisted scenario already. Your key elements here are your jealous person, your possession and your adversary or mistake. Some variants of this scenario don’t need a supposed accomplice, depending on what exactly your jealous person is jealous of. The basic conflict here arises however because of that adversary or mistake–remember that in this situation the jealousy is raised in falsehood and erroneous judgement.

Because of the dual conflicts going on here, this is an excellent choice for a main plot. Not only do you have the jealous person’s attempts to gain their coveted possession, but you also have the adversary’s interference and attempts to keep themselves hidden from the accomplice. This gives you plenty of space for character development and the development of the relationship between characters. Alternately, the motivation of jealousy can make this useful for a plot-driven story.

As a minor plot, it may be helpful to keep this particular scenario as simple as possible. Rather than trying to work a double conflict into one subplot, the mistake of judgement or adversary’s interference may need to be as clear as possible. This makes it less appealing as a plot-driven scenario and more inclined towards a character-driven arc.

Posted in writing

Plot: Dishonored Beloved

A dishonored beloved plot can bring a whole new layer of complexity and twists to the story when employed. If you’d like, you can check out all of the plot scenarios here.

  • A wrongdoing is discovered against a loved one.

The roles for the dishonored beloved plot are extremely variable. You must have someone who commits the wrongdoing, you must have the loved one and you must have someone who discovers that wrongdoing. However, there is nothing to say that you can’t pile these roles on top of one another. For instance, having the loved one discover that their spouse has been having an affair (classic adultery). Alternately, have the wrongdoer find out that the person they’ve committed a crime against is in fact someone they care about. There are numerous ways to twist this plot.

Because of it’s great flexibility, as a main plot it works well in both character and plot driven stories. How characters act and react each to each part of the wrongdoing, discovery and resolution gives you ample room for character arcs. Making that wrongdoing a part of a larger crime plays well with plot-driven stories where the end goal is the gain or downfall of a group of people.