Plot Driven vs Character Driven: What Are the Main Differences and When Should Authors Use Each?

In storytelling, writers usually take one of two approaches to move the story along – these are either plot-driven or character-driven. 

Plot-driven stories are ones that focus on a series of events, whereas character-driven stories are all about development of the characters which then shapes the plot itself. 

What is a Plot-Driven Story? 

A plot-driven book is centered on events. They consist of gripping scenes that help the story move along swiftly to keep the reader engaged. Genres that tend to stick to a plot-driven approach include action-adventure, horror, fantasies, and sci-fi novels. 

Although these stories still need interesting and relatable characters, there is generally less focus on their personalities and more attention on the choices they make and what is happening. 

Examples of plot-driven stories include The Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park where the aim is to ‘build a world’ around the characters and to let that take the lead rather than the characters themselves. 

Tips for Writing a Plot-Driven Story

Plot-driven stories require a lot more preparation and mapping out before putting pen to paper, and this is because you’ll want to know where your story is leading to. 

  1. Outline Your Story Before Writing: Figure out how you want your story to begin, what the middle of the narrative looks like, and where your story will end up. A never-ending narrative with no direction can be super frustrating for the reader!
  2. Figure Out the Twists: What are the major twists your story is going to take and when are you going to add them in? To keep the story gripping, you’ll want to throw in a few curveballs (just not too many as this can get a little messy!).
  3. Be Logical With Your Sequence: You’ll want to carefully map out your plot points so that the narrative is well-developed and clear. Highlight the cause and effect when planning your plot so the story is easy to follow.

Examples of Plot-Driven Books

The majority of sci-fi, mysteries, horror, and action-adventure are plot-driven because they focus on creating a fictional world around the characters. Here are a few examples of books that put the plot ahead of character bio development

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

This action-packed storyline is what grips the reader throughout rather than the characters themselves. The various twists and turns that Jurassic Park takes is what keeps the story moving forward. 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Of course, we are all familiar with our main girl, Katniss, but what keeps this book so intriguing is the Hunger Game itself! The fight scenes and element of ‘struggling to survive’ is based on the trials the characters have to go through which makes this story plot-driven.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Following the story of a modern black woman drawn back to the slave quarters through time-travel, Kindred focuses on the choices of the character instead of the development of her personality. 

What is a Character-Driven Book?

Character-driven books are stories that center on the internal world of the character, their relationships and how they develop throughout. 

They’re all about highlighting the finer details and flaws of a dynamic character and how their personality drives the story forward. 

A writer’s aim with a character-driven plot is to make the reader deeply connect with the main character by giving a backstory, showcasing their internal conflict and giving their perspective on what is going on. 

While plot-driven stories focus on what is happening, character-driven stories focus on why something is happening.

Tips for Writing a Character-Driven Story

  1. Give a Backstory on the Character: Why is the main character the way they are? Does it come from a past childhood trauma or inner conflict? Where did they come from and where do they want to end up?
  2. Focus on Voice and Perspective: The reader wants to know what the character is thinking along the way. For this, you can break conventional grammar rules to give the character a unique voice and map out their thoughts.
  3. What Makes Your Character Interesting?: If we’re basing the story on a main protagonist, we need to make them as intriguing as possible to drive the story forward. Think about their big and small flaws, their responses, how they manage the relationships around them.

Examples of Character-Driven Stories 

Here are a few examples of books that utilize strong character development to propel the story forward. 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Telling the story of young girl, Kya, the reader is informed of her early childhood trauma which explains her curiosity, bravery and stubbornness as she grows older. Focusing on her relationship with nature, Kya’s traits lead the storyline. 

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye takes us on a journey with teenage-boy Holden Caulfield who struggles with elements of mortality, identity and personal connection. Caulfield’s ideological dreaming and love for his youth is what the reader is reminded of throughout the story. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Following the main lead, Holly Golightly, this story is all about her personal struggles and complexities, making this book extremely character-driven. 

Do Readers Prefer Character-Driven or Plot-Driven Books?

Plot driven vs character driven? It really depends on the reader! 

Many readers prefer character-driven stories because they enjoy becoming a part of the character’s inner world and understanding why they think the way they do and how the person develops. These stories tend to be a  lot more relatable and easier to connect with, meaning they have a lasting impact on the reader. 

On the contrary, plot-driven stories can be more reliable and gripping. You never know the twists and turns the story may take which gives a lot more freedom to the writer himself. If you want your reader to feel a sense of escapism, we’d recommend opting for a plot-driven approach so that elements of sci-fi, fantasy and dystopia can be brought in.

There are some books that manage to find a balance between both approaches. These novels have a high-concept sequence of events while not neglecting the development of the characters and vice versa. 

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it and it’s all about which approach you feel most comfortable with! 

Happy writing…

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