The difference between plot driven and character driven


Each of these styles has a place and, each can be used incredibly well by a vast number of writers out there, but knowing when to use each one and exactly how to use them seems to be alluding me right now.

Yes, this is stemming from my writing class again, I’m sure you guys will be sick to death of me rabbiting on about my fantastic writing class and whining about how I can’t seem to quite grasp the concepts put forward by the teacher.

Would this be considered character driven?Credit: http://flic.kr/p/cdheaj

Would this be considered character driven?
Credit: http://flic.kr/p/cdheaj

I think deep down, we all know what sorts of things drive characters in a story/movie/comic etc. they’re the same sorts of things that drive each of us, our friends, our family and complete strangers. We’re all different, but some of these driving forces are the same. Knowing a character has these same driving forces is easy. Knowing or creating what they are is also easy. Actually trying to convey that without overtly stating it, seems to be where I fall a little short.

Imagine you are trying to describe aspects of your character without physically describing them. Go! You have 10 minutes.

Enter Albalvion.

DUN DUN DUN (yes that was my attempt at dramatic suspense!)

His deep-seated belief in the prophecy* is what drives him to break from the Elders’ decree and take the plunge to help her. Stealthily he scours the busy streets of Catama, searching for the pregnant and petulant stubbornness of Sorcha. The scent of fresh blood floats to his nostrils and fills his mind with images of murder and pillaging. He rushes forward, determined to find her.

Staying in the shadows of the dark and dank alley, he watches her flee from the men, three who long to do her harm. She stumbles and skins her knees, her belly hanging low as she crawls. She skitters towards him, watching for them over her shoulder until she presses up against where he hides, her breath fast and fluttery.

*The prophecy hasn’t been exactly worked out yet, but I have the general gist of it.

Ok, so I didn’t really describe much about him at all. When you read that, what sort of mental image do you come up with? What does he look like? What sort of things drive him?

I can tell you, the comment from one of my fellow students was: “He sounds creepy!”

I barely managed to suppress my high-pitched screech of ‘CREEPY!?’ and nodded demurely instead, wishing I could crawl into a hole. This is my co-protagonist here, he’s not meant to be creepy. Well, only to the bad guys, but Sorcha isn’t a bad guy! I swear!

Other feedback included that this was more plot driven than character driven, which makes sense after the fact.

FAIL!

Upon talking with my friend after the class and explaining some more things (mainly the scene in question) she understood where I was going with it, but it was obvious I wasn’t articulating what I wanted to in that 10 minutes.

Now imagine you have to describe your character in a negative light, highlight (should that be lowlight?) all their flaws and bad habits. Pick them apart… GO! You have 15 minutes!

Coming off the tail of that epic failure, I wanted to do better, I wanted to absolutely smash this brief. Did I do it? You can be the judge!

His big steely grey eyes glower with barely bridled intent as he watched the prosecutor stride across the room in front of the jury dressed in his expensive, crisp suit.

“He broke away from the time-honoured beliefs of the Elders for what? A girl? He exposed sensitive information to them, helped the chosen one escape and he did it all because he misinterpreted the prophecy?”

The suit pauses.

“Proof of his dastardliness is in the pudding. The lying and half-truths he shared with not only the Elders, but also those he travelled with, those he defied the Elders for too. Who can trust him?”

The sleek ebony crown of Albalvion’s head glints in the courtroom light; the clink of his long nails fill the pregnant pause of silence with an almost deafening cacophony of drumming.

“He defies those who uphold the law, and despite being well-educated and advanced in years, he cannot provide a valid excuse for his actions!” Exclaims the suit; intently watching the jury for emotion.

The tension in Albalvion’s shoulders squeezes even tighter and he bares his teeth across the room at the slimy looking suit, resting against the railing in front of the jury.

“He’s stubborn too! Quick to temper and the size of him lends itself to being intimidating. Add to that, the fact that his incisors are a good 10 centimetres long, his talon-like nails also provide him with another useful and violent weapon. And, we mustn’t forget about his ever-present watchfulness and mistrust of those he doesn’t know.”

Albalvion sweeps his tail dramatically around himself in agitation, the glistening black scales positively rippling with anger as he seethes, smoke puffs out of his nostrils in short, sharp bursts.

My working dot points about Albalvion:

  • Lacks empathy
  • Hates being challenged/he’s an alpha male
  • Short fuse/Quick to temper
  • He’s stubborn
  • He can withhold the truth when it serves his purpose
  • He looks aggressive/intimidating
  • He can be a bit arrogant

I didn’t read this one out in class, I kind of wish I had. I think this is much better, not perfect, but certainly gets the point across.

Keep your eyes peeled for the last escapade of Albalvion coming to this blog soon. He graces an American diner… imagine that?!

Care to share your versions of writing you came up with for one of your characters? Have comments on my examples? Let me know below.

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3 thoughts on “The difference between plot driven and character driven

  1. I decided for the last book, I wanted an anti-hero; my characters before had been quite nice, and I wanted someone angry…then it would be a real punch when you realise at some point you’re rooting for him. Here are the first pieces of dialgue for him I wrote:

    >>
    “Dylan?”
    I ignore [mum] for a minute, pretending not to hear my name until she says it louder. I turn from the waves and face her. “What?”
    “You’ve got to come inside. You’ll be washed away.”
    “So?”
    “Please, Dylan. Don’t start. Not today.”
    >>

    I think all my stories are plot-driven. The characters react to things around them, rather than any change being internal.

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