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Thread: Plot driven vs Character driven

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    Default Plot driven vs Character driven

    Title says it all. I've been wondering what are pros and cons of each and how each can be good or bad in executions.

    Your thoughts? If you need me to elaborate, ask me and I will.

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    I think you can obviously do a story that develops character and has a fully-developed, action-oriented plot. More to the point, if your story is ONLY plot-driven, I'm not sure I'd want to read it. I guess you could do a purely character-driven story, but you will get complaints that "nothing happened!", so you've got to be prepared for that.

    If I HAD to choose, though, I'd rather read a purely character-driven story than a plot-driven one because there will be more of an attachment created from the character-driven one. I will [hopefully] bond with (or develop intense feelings one way or the other for) a character just becoming who they are. An adventure story with cardboard characters, though? That would be dry and wouldn't really affix itself to the reader.

    I really think a worthwhile story needs to be both of them, though. You should have a story and a goal that characters are striving to achieve, and the characters need to pop and develop and be well-rounded individuals that feel like they could exist in an entirely separate setting. Without the former, there's less allure in flipping the page and seeing what happens going forward; without the latter, the plot seems pointless and the reader almost doesn't care what happens in the end.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid87 View Post


    I think you can obviously do a story that develops character and has a fully-developed, action-oriented plot. More to the point, if your story is ONLY plot-driven, I'm not sure I'd want to read it. I guess you could do a purely character-driven story, but you will get complaints that "nothing happened!", so you've got to be prepared for that.

    If I HAD to choose, though, I'd rather read a purely character-driven story than a plot-driven one because there will be more of an attachment created from the character-driven one. I will [hopefully] bond with (or develop intense feelings one way or the other for) a character just becoming who they are. An adventure story with cardboard characters, though? That would be dry and wouldn't really affix itself to the reader.

    I really think a worthwhile story needs to be both of them, though. You should have a story and a goal that characters are striving to achieve, and the characters need to pop and develop and be well-rounded individuals that feel like they could exist in an entirely separate setting. Without the former, there's less allure in flipping the page and seeing what happens going forward; without the latter, the plot seems pointless and the reader almost doesn't care what happens in the end.
    Nice use of that pic. LOL.

    And you're right. There's a way to do both but I wasn't sure on the details hence this thread. As you can tell, my self-confidence is the size of an amoeba so I have to ask people if this is right or wrong out of fear that I might think I know what I'm doing when I really don't. Sorry if I'm a bother. Truly.
    Last edited by matt0044; 25th January 2013 at 4:12 PM.

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    I've always found it really hard to do singularly plot- or character-driven stories. When plot is the only focus, it feels like things continuously happen and the character (who is underdeveloped to the point it could really be anyone else in the place and not make a difference) is around to see it occur because they're the point of view we're following. An extreme character-driven plot would still have things going on, but there's a feeling like none of them matter, like they're random events for the character to react or lament. Those are kind of the far ends of the spectrum. Most stories will have a blending of the two with a balance or slight leaning toward one or the other. A character decides to go on an adventure (character), or something happens that forces the character to leave (plot). It can be fun to play with that in the outlining/planning of a story. Shine light on the character and convince the reader to wonder what the character will do next only to have a surprising yet inevitable plot twist. Build up a plot event that's on the horizon then have the character go down a different path or chose to do something else. Be careful with that one though, if you hype up a plot point too much then don't deliver on it people get really mad. Hope that helps a little, it's a bit rambling.

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    Matt, honestly, you need to start adding more to the first post then just a few sentences if you want a better discussion than what some of us are able to with what's given. In other words: be specific. Please.

    Now that's out of the way...

    I figured that one or the other would help drive the story to the other. Like you can have a plot-driven story help with character development, or the characters are the ones that drive the plot along. You really can't have one without the other. Well, you can, but it'd look unbalanced in the long-run, since both act as legs/crutches to the story. You have to be able to have a gripping plot with equally-gripping characters in order to have a (you guessed it) gripping story. You have to be able to appeal to both sides of the audience: one side is reading/watching for the plot, while the other half is for the characters. Of course, you also have those overlapping people who are both for plot and characters, which is really what I feel is what helps make a good story is an equal balance between the two.

    I suppose if you want to experiment with one side, you can go ahead and try and see what happens. Either way, you're going to have something positive, and also something negative--and usually that negative is the huge gaping hole of what the story's lacking in, which may or may not take away from the other half.
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    Quote Originally Posted by matt0044 View Post
    Title says it all. I've been wondering what are pros and cons of each and how each can be good or bad in executions.

    Your thoughts? If you need me to elaborate, ask me and I will.
    I bet you still know 1st and third person writing. Right? you know the difference.

    1st person = the character reacting and thinking to its view, including talking to the readers = character driven
    3rd person = the character speaking to the scenario with the narrator's guiding the readers = plot driven

    Personally, it is a balance of both worlds that makes it fun. I personally, I do 60% character driven and 40% plot driven in my chapters. Sometimes, its the reverse.

    The other double condition in one chapter with plot driven writing. The next other chapter is written by a driving character.
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    Okay, let me put this rather bluntly:

    Characters drive the plot
    The plot drives the characters

    I don't think it's possible to have a story that is entirely plot or character driven. If it was entirely character driven, there would be no plot. Likewise, a plot with no characters. If you can write a story like this... actually, kudos to you, because a plot with no characters would be pretty impressive and something I would like to see.

    What I'm trying to say is this: There is a balance between the driving forces of a story. The actions of the characters, along with their traits, thoughts, goal and dreams will move the plot along. The plot shapes the characters, making them change and grow. So yes, if you want a good discussion on this, OP, please elaborate. Otherwise, everything Sid, Kutie Pie and I have said basically wraps this up.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feralninja View Post
    Okay, let me put this rather bluntly:

    Characters drive the plot
    The plot drives the characters

    I don't think it's possible to have a story that is entirely plot or character driven. If it was entirely character driven, there would be no plot. Likewise, a plot with no characters. If you can write a story like this... actually, kudos to you, because a plot with no characters would be pretty impressive and something I would like to see.

    What I'm trying to say is this: There is a balance between the driving forces of a story. The actions of the characters, along with their traits, thoughts, goal and dreams will move the plot along. The plot shapes the characters, making them change and grow. So yes, if you want a good discussion on this, OP, please elaborate. Otherwise, everything Sid, Kutie Pie and I have said basically wraps this up.

    This was what I was going to say. The characters make the plot as the plot itself has characters to make it.


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    I don't think he meant a plot with NO characters or characters with NO plot; I think he was going for a story where the main thrust is the action and the goal, and the characters are treated as two-dimension non-beings that the reader doesn't feel have any real backstory or development. Or, conversely, a story with realistic, growing, humanistic characters without any real endgame goal. Maybe just a day in a guy's life that is extraordinary in no way. He has real-life interactions and has a history, but the plot is just "well, here he is, going from work to home and learning a little about himself and his friends" and there's no particular goal that he's shooting for or moving action.


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    Well, literature fiction tends to rely hard on the character development side (see: Catcher in the Rye). But since fanfiction is targeted to an audience that is, for the most part, just looking for something to enjoy, it's much better to do a balance of the two, perhaps weighted in the plot direction. Popular manga, for example, tend to follow strong arc-style plots, while also fitting in character development along the way (thinking specifically of Naruto).

    In my experience, a moving plot attracts readers, and moving characters attract critiques and keep the readers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid87 View Post
    I don't think he meant a plot with NO characters or characters with NO plot; I think he was going for a story where the main thrust is the action and the goal, and the characters are treated as two-dimension non-beings that the reader doesn't feel have any real backstory or development. Or, conversely, a story with realistic, growing, humanistic characters without any real endgame goal. Maybe just a day in a guy's life that is extraordinary in no way. He has real-life interactions and has a history, but the plot is just "well, here he is, going from work to home and learning a little about himself and his friends" and there's no particular goal that he's shooting for or moving action.
    Ah, okay. Majorly plot driven stuff is a little like the existential philosophical things I was mad about for a little while a few months back. And your definition of character-driven sounds a little like the works of Chekhov, or "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". So yes, it is possible to have a mostly character/plot driven piece, but works that incorporate both tend to make better contributions to literature. For example, David Copperfield is widely regarded as a better story than Oliver Twist.

    Quote Originally Posted by IJuggler View Post
    Well, literature fiction tends to rely hard on the character development side (see: Catcher in the Rye). But since fanfiction is targeted to an audience that is, for the most part, just looking for something to enjoy, it's much better to do a balance of the two, perhaps weighted in the plot direction. Popular manga, for example, tend to follow strong arc-style plots, while also fitting in character development along the way (thinking specifically of Naruto).
    Wait what. Character development in Naruto. :P I kid, I kid.
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    Oooohhh, juicy... *_*

    Well, let me first off start by saying that, if you're gonna have a great story, you can't have one at the exclusion of the other.

    Second, I don't know if there's one right answer. There are many reasons why creative writing is more an art than a science, and this is one of them. It all comes down to what kind of story you're writing, things like character cast size (2-3 main characters, or are you working with an ensemble cast or do you have more recurring names than a Gundam anime?), length of the story (one-shot, short novella, 70-chapter epic)

    I will say that, in my opinion, "persons connect to persons." What I mean is, I believe that if you invest time in your characters, it's more likely to keep readers coming back than if you invest time in the plot. Character, by their nature, are often more complex than plots. I think strong characters are what set some stories apart from the rest. If you can get readers emotionally invested in the characters they read about, you have them on a string, in my estimation. Whatever happens to that character, they react. You can almost control them - make them feel joy, sadness, fear, pity, anger, betrayal, or anything in between.

    Wow, that last sentence came out sounding WAY more like a supervillain than I ever intended. But there's an element of truth to it. Let's be honest - there are a lot of fanfics here that if you made the characters faceless, nameless drones, would have plots that all looked rather the same. Which ones do you remember, though? Which ones are the ones that stick with you, the ones where you're almost compelled to come back just to see what happens to that one person or group?

    So, long story short, I lean more character-driven because I'd rather read a somewhat generic plot with very strong characters, than a good plot with characters that don't give me any reason to give two s**ts about them.

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    I actually spoke to my writing prof about this the other day. Whether a story is primarily character or plot driven is really dependent on the story you are trying to write. Literary fiction (so the stuff you read in schools, books we generally refer to as "classics") is mostly character driven, because most literary fiction is examining the hows and whys of humanity. Literary fiction usually has some pretty big themes in mind throughout the story. In a character driven story, the climax does not necessarily have to be big. It might be as simple as an ideological shift in a character, an agreement reached, or a character moving beyond the loss of someone. Basically, the climax is not terribly climactic. Look at Les Mis. Why? Because Les Mis is an example for everything because it's massive and it has everything about humanity in it. Be quiet. I like Les Mis. Now, the most tense part of that story in the most physical sense is the battle at the barricade, but that's not really the climax of the story. Yes, the most action happens on the barricade, but the real climax is when Valjean finally comes to terms with his past and lets Cosette, his duty in raising her completed. It could also be argued that Javert's (spoiler alert, I guess?) suicide is also a climax, because he has an ideological shift as well.

    Genre fiction is more plot driven. Not that its characters are any less important, but it is more focused on the plot. See, plot driven fiction tends to be genre fiction. Sci fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, etc. The climax in these books tends to be big, a huge moment that all previous action has built up to. In sci fi/fantasy, this tends to be a big battle, in romance its the fruition of the couple, in a mystery it's the revelation of the whodunit. On a fanfiction forum, I think it's safe to say that most if not all of the stories here are genre fiction. There is a definite rising action, with a culmination of this in the end.

    Seriously guys, don't worry about the plot/character distinction until you get to a college-level writing class, and even then, maybe not until you get into some of the advanced ones. Just write what you want to write.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feralninja View Post
    I actually spoke to my writing prof about this the other day. Whether a story is primarily character or plot driven is really dependent on the story you are trying to write. Literary fiction (so the stuff you read in schools, books we generally refer to as "classics") is mostly character driven, because most literary fiction is examining the hows and whys of humanity. Literary fiction usually has some pretty big themes in mind throughout the story. In a character driven story, the climax does not necessarily have to be big. It might be as simple as an ideological shift in a character, an agreement reached, or a character moving beyond the loss of someone. Basically, the climax is not terribly climactic. Look at Les Mis. Why? Because Les Mis is an example for everything because it's massive and it has everything about humanity in it. Be quiet. I like Les Mis. Now, the most tense part of that story in the most physical sense is the battle at the barricade, but that's not really the climax of the story. Yes, the most action happens on the barricade, but the real climax is when Valjean finally comes to terms with his past and lets Cosette, his duty in raising her completed. It could also be argued that Javert's (spoiler alert, I guess?) suicide is also a climax, because he has an ideological shift as well.

    Genre fiction is more plot driven. Not that its characters are any less important, but it is more focused on the plot. See, plot driven fiction tends to be genre fiction. Sci fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, etc. The climax in these books tends to be big, a huge moment that all previous action has built up to. In sci fi/fantasy, this tends to be a big battle, in romance its the fruition of the couple, in a mystery it's the revelation of the whodunit. On a fanfiction forum, I think it's safe to say that most if not all of the stories here are genre fiction. There is a definite rising action, with a culmination of this in the end.

    Seriously guys, don't worry about the plot/character distinction until you get to a college-level writing class, and even then, maybe not until you get into some of the advanced ones. Just write what you want to write.
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    Yeah, probably. I only bring it up because college writing professors aren't too keen on their students writing genre fiction. There is more educational merit to learning how to write literary fiction. As someone who has been writing genre fiction for years and has gotten quite good at it, it's not a terribly easy shift to make, but hey, it happens.
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    Quote Originally Posted by EonMaster One View Post
    Oooohhh, juicy... *_*

    Well, let me first off start by saying that, if you're gonna have a great story, you can't have one at the exclusion of the other.

    Second, I don't know if there's one right answer. There are many reasons why creative writing is more an art than a science, and this is one of them. It all comes down to what kind of story you're writing, things like character cast size (2-3 main characters, or are you working with an ensemble cast or do you have more recurring names than a Gundam anime?), length of the story (one-shot, short novella, 70-chapter epic)

    I will say that, in my opinion, "persons connect to persons." What I mean is, I believe that if you invest time in your characters, it's more likely to keep readers coming back than if you invest time in the plot. Character, by their nature, are often more complex than plots. I think strong characters are what set some stories apart from the rest. If you can get readers emotionally invested in the characters they read about, you have them on a string, in my estimation. Whatever happens to that character, they react. You can almost control them - make them feel joy, sadness, fear, pity, anger, betrayal, or anything in between.

    Wow, that last sentence came out sounding WAY more like a supervillain than I ever intended. But there's an element of truth to it. Let's be honest - there are a lot of fanfics here that if you made the characters faceless, nameless drones, would have plots that all looked rather the same. Which ones do you remember, though? Which ones are the ones that stick with you, the ones where you're almost compelled to come back just to see what happens to that one person or group?

    So, long story short, I lean more character-driven because I'd rather read a somewhat generic plot with very strong characters, than a good plot with characters that don't give me any reason to give two s**ts about them.
    This sums up my opinion on the matter pretty well. I believe it's better to have an average plot with exceptional characters than it is to have average characters with an exceptional plot. Though having both would be ideal, if possible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feralninja View Post
    Yeah, probably. I only bring it up because college writing professors aren't too keen on their students writing genre fiction. There is more educational merit to learning how to write literary fiction. As someone who has been writing genre fiction for years and has gotten quite good at it, it's not a terribly easy shift to make, but hey, it happens.
    I don't mean to start anything, but I disagree with this. There is just as much educational merit to writing genre fiction as literary fiction, when you ignore the labels each get and simply try to write the best story you can. I could point out a hundred fantastic literary devices in Orson Scott Card's works, which are for the most part sci-fi fantasy, whereas the older texts such as Great Expectations tend to be missing the most important step for a book; ability to keep the reader's interest. If I don't want to read a book because I have not been pulled in, then no amount of literary technique can save it from gathering dust and being forgotten.

    (insert rant about consumerist society here, to explain why being read is better than being a literary success. And then ignore it because it doesn't belong here.)

    If I wanted to analyze and pick apart and re-analyze a story, without getting any actual enjoyment from it, there are always the painfully dry readings of James Joyce or Ayn Rand that I could pulp my soul on. But I haven't yet found a single story that could fully encompass all the joy I get from reading, and so the search for such a fiction, and the elements it might include, is half the fun.
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    Quote Originally Posted by IJuggler View Post
    I don't mean to start anything, but I disagree with this. There is just as much educational merit to writing genre fiction as literary fiction, when you ignore the labels each get and simply try to write the best story you can. I could point out a hundred fantastic literary devices in Orson Scott Card's works, which are for the most part sci-fi fantasy, whereas the older texts such as Great Expectations tend to be missing the most important step for a book; ability to keep the reader's interest. If I don't want to read a book because I have not been pulled in, then no amount of literary technique can save it from gathering dust and being forgotten.

    (insert rant about consumerist society here, to explain why being read is better than being a literary success. And then ignore it because it doesn't belong here.)

    If I wanted to analyze and pick apart and re-analyze a story, without getting any actual enjoyment from it, there are always the painfully dry readings of James Joyce or Ayn Rand that I could pulp my soul on. But I haven't yet found a single story that could fully encompass all the joy I get from reading, and so the search for such a fiction, and the elements it might include, is half the fun.
    Oh, don't think for a minute that I support that view! No, I'm a strong proponent of genre fiction, for reasons that would make a very long rant. The problem is that many college professors would rather see students write dry pieces of literary fiction that teach them a specific writing device than the story they want to tell. I don't like it much, but it's not worth my time to try to change my profs' minds.

    But this is a fanfiction forum, and hardly a problem for people doing what we're doing here.
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