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When I was writing Royal Street, the book coming out next year, I had a series of manuscript exchanges with an online critter. We liked each other’s writing but came away perplexed. I thought his story rambled; he didn’t understand my character’s inner motivation.
Finally, he figured it out. “You write plot-driven fiction,” he told me. “I write character-driven fiction. You start with an idea for a story; I start with an idea for a character and then figure out what her story is.” Guilty as charged. I come up with an idea for a book, then figure out who needs to play my roles and how they will be motivated. Since that exchange, I’ve been more conscious of trying to get to know my characters and their motivations and what will bring them to life on the page. It’s still a struggle at times.
Now that I’m writing fiction, I read fiction differently. I can tell a plot-driven book from a character-driven book, and am always on the prowl for books that do both well. Doesn’t mean that one type of book is any better or worse than the other, or even that one sells better than the other. But doing both well is an art I appreciate when I find it.
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books are plot-driven. Her characters aren’t deep and soulful, but they’re fun and we care about them. They zoom along at a rapid-fire pace, and drag us with them faster than we can decide who’s sexier: Morelli or Ranger.
Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series (regardless of writing quality) is character-driven. Even if Bella is a dishrag, she’s all about the emotion. And not much happens in the books, plot-wise. In book one, girl meets good vampire and falls in love. Girl encounters bad vampire who wants to eat her. Good vampire saves girl from bad vampire. The end.
Definitely not plot-driven.
Who blends the two well? My personal favorite right now is Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a deep, well-rounded character involved in intricate plots that twist and turn through page after riveting page. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, another favorite, started out as plot-driven but gradually deepened Harry’s character as the series progressed.
Which do you like better–plot-driven or character-driven? Or does it matter, as long as the story grips you and doesn’t let you go till the end?