I have faced a dilemma each time I want to write a story because the type of story I write affects characterization. There are two types of stories: Plot-driven stories and character-driven stories.
How can you tell the difference?
A plot-driven story is that story you can retell remembering none of the characters and it is still a great story. To make it clearer, the story is the story itself (okay, that doesn’t sound clearer does it?) It is that story you write without thinking about the characters first. The characters don’t matter because the story moves itself forward. For instance, a ‘whodunit’ story is about a crime and its resolution. Yes, we have a detective solving the crime but we don’t care about him beyond how he resolves the case and the part of his life that helps him solve it.
Character driven stories are different. What happens to the character and how they react to the happenings both internally and externally is what moves the story forward. Most other types of stories aside from thrillers and crime fall into character-driven stories. The crime genre can also be character-driven. For example, a crime story focused on a criminal and what became of him after meeting a woman he fell in love with before an operation is character driven. In fact, this would be the recipe for a most intriguing character driven story.
It is important to determine the story you want to write so you know where to concentrate your energy. If it is plot-driven then you will pay more attention to your plot points: what is your story about and how does it unfold. How will you keep the audience hooked on the story? What about suspense? How will the story be resolved? After setting this out you will now think of your characters and what quirks they will possess that will make them the best fit for the world of your story.
If your story is character-driven then you will have to think to develop a character profile which will include your character’s journey. You could draw a timeline for before the character stepped into the world of your story and after. One thing you should be careful to outline is how your character has grown. Give them character flaws which they will shed at the end of the story. This is called the character arc. For example in our earlier story, the thief met a girl and fell in love before his next operation. How does this girl affect his life? Does she make him rethink his next operation? Does he still go? The thief’s actions will drive the story and why he acted like he did.
So, how do I resolve my dilemma? I write out the plot of the story and then ask myself: Is this better as a plot -driven or a character? And then I listen to the voices in my head ☺️
Exercise: Think of the last story you read. Was it plot driven or character driven?