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Plot Driven VS character driven?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Mar 29, 2019.

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  1. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

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    I'll always think character first, but character dictates plot. I think I understand your question, yet at the same time it's hard to grasp. What is plot without characters? Who dictates the "plot" if not the characters, I'll assume you're telling a story about them, so how can you really tell a difference between plot focused stories and character driven? I guess I just don't understand how the 'plot' and 'characters' could ever be divided.
     
  2. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

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    I honestly don't see how they're different in terms of storytelling. Quentin is dialogue heavy, but that advances the plot; Asimov uses characters in the same way, yet dialogue isn't given to actors, but the authors 'voice'. I truly think it's a harmful idea to separate character and plot because they should be the same thing
     
  3. Bandicoot

    Bandicoot Dreamer

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    I recently beta read a short story for a CP. Fascinating plot; but the characters were flat. Therefore the story didn't work for me. The plot is about what happens to the character, the character's journey. If you don't care about the character (love or hate, like or dislike) then even the best plot cannot hold you.
     
  4. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

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    The difference is that in character driven stories, the events happen in order to allow for an examination of the personality of the characters.

    For example, in pulp fiction, that guy bursts out of hiding and shoots at Jules and Vincent and misses so that the audience can get to see how Jules and Vincent react to that miraculous event.

    Then later, Vincent accidentally shoots that guy in the head, splattering his brains all over the interior of the cars in order for the audience to see how Vincent and Jules, and the wolf, and Quentin Tarantino (playing himself) react to that situation according to their different personalities.

    Then Vincent and Jules go to breakfast and are interrupted by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer holding up the cafe. The success or failure of the robbery is unimportant. What is important is the character development of Jules having an epiphany and deciding to change his life.

    I’m betting that most people reading those previous paragraphs had probably forgotten how all those non sequential scenes fitted together chronologicaly. But I’ll bet anything that everyone who has seen that movie remembers all the characters I mentioned. And we know what the characters were thinking and feeling in those scenes, and I reckon most people could have s guess as to how those characters would react in a theoretical made up scenario because the movie was written in such a way as to show tgem experirncing such a wide range of emotions.

    In a plot driven story, what the characters do and say is written in order to portray, explain and advance the events of the story. How the characters think and feel on a personal level isn’t anywhere near as important as the fact of the portrayal events themselves and the communication of the themes.

    In Jurassic Park, the personality, and feelings of Doctor Grant, Malcolm and all the others aren’t important as all the cool science exposition and the escaping from the dinosaurs. That’s why the sequels were also about science and being chased by dinosaurs but subbed the main characters in and out.no one wanted to see a sequel of Grant go through his midlife crisis and take a road trip across California meeting wacky characters along the way.
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    There seems to be an assumption that plot driven stories must necessarily have weak characterization and flimsy relationships between the characters, by definition.

    I disagree.

    The corresponding assumption is that any story with great, engaging characterization is therefore by definition a character driven story.

    I think this misses the point of what is meant by character driven and plot driven.

    Cases can be found of plot driven stories with weak or mediocre characterization, but this doesn't define a plot driven story.

    Most of the MCU movies, the Harry Potter movies, Die Hard, and any number of other examples can be given of plot driven stories that have engaging characters who aren't mere cardboard figures included for the sole purpose of moving the plot along.

    I think DarkfantasyDarkfantasy's mention of focus might add some distinction between character driven and plot driven story development, and I commented similarly in another recent thread, Why Have Romance in Fantasy? Characters can have engaging personalities, backstories, character growth, authentic relationships (erotic or platonic) within a plot driven story, but if the focus falls on these, the danger exists that the story will be weakened or bogged down in the way a romantic subplot (or any subplot for that matter) can distract from the main story's plot and begin to take over. In which case, maybe it should have been a character driven story from the beginning.

    The OP had also asked, Do you plot them differently? This question hasn't been answered directly or addressed sufficiently here, but I think it's an important question. I think the answer's Yes, although that's too easy an answer. Plotting in general is about setting up a causal set of events within a story, and in this respect we might say character driven and plot driven stories are plotted in the same way. But it's the content of those events and the causal effects as these relate to the story as a whole—i.e., the purpose of these events for the story—that make the difference.

    Is the focus on these events or on the characters, character development, and character relationships that exist and may be affected by these events? Does the story exist to show this set of events (in light of which the characters may change and grow), or does the story exist to explore these characters, using events to better that exploration?

    One of the difficulties in this question arises because events aren't character-less—they usually involve characters, as witnesses or participants, and the characters ought to be affected by the events and have opinions on the events. Also, when you have characters, they're likely to be involved in events because they're not sitting in solitary confinement thinking about absolutely nothing. So, there will be both, characters and plot; and, why neglect one or the other?

    When plotting a story, this focus becomes important: Why am I putting this event in the story?

    Is it being included only for exploring something about the character, perhaps putting pressure on the character to grow/change or setting up such a potential future change? Is it about exploring the character's milieu because that character's milieu will help build the picture of him? Then maybe you are writing a character driven story. (Pulp Fiction was mentioned above. A great example.)

    Or does it have something to do with the larger set of events, all causally related—even if that something-to-do-with-larger-events is a change in that character? (Example of the latter: a main character has been betrayed sometime in the first third of the story and spends the entire second act pulling away from outside assistance; this will cause problems for resolving the main plot, possibly requiring another change sometime in the third act.) Then maybe you are writing a plot driven story.

    A plot driven novel might afford the length to have minor character-building events along the way, events that display that character's...character for the audience but which otherwise have no other purpose. A walk in the street includes a few paragraphs about a peasant girl being whipped by her father, and the MC stops it, furious. That's an event. It's a minor event; I wouldn't even consider it to be a part of the plot, unless that girl or her father or some other witness to the event uses it in a significant way later to affect the overall story and plot. But if you are writing a plot driven story and you include a whole chapter or long scene about that event and nothing much else—that chapter or scene is being put into the novel only for this purpose to show something about the character—then it's probably going to be bloat and distracting. If you have many such chapters or long scenes like this in your plot driven story, it's going to be hella distracting/detracting—or maybe it's a character driven novel in disguise.

    This isn't to say that events can't do double duty. You can character build while not distracting from the main plot. Because the main characters are important to the plot, exploring their thought processes, their natures, can accomplish this. I do question how much you should do this in depth, if by depth we are talking page length, scene counts, etc. I can understand much about a character with few words or a single scene as a guide; I don't need to be reminded that Harry Potter is a kind person as if I forgot that fact after reading two more chapters. Naturally, I'd want that kindness to keep showing through during the course of other events, because...that's Harry.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    A huge number of SF novels, and even more short stories, are driven by plot more than by character. This was more true in the early days (prior to 1970, say) than now, but if you're looking for examples the list is long.

    I'm just finishing a novel that began almost entirely without characters. I knew I wanted to do a re-telling of Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Almost at a single swoop I had a plot. I knew there would be a group of people going, not just one, but beyond that, nothing. I started with Verne's cast, making changes there, then moved on to creating new characters, but they weren't filled out much. As I ran them through the early chapters I began to come up with aspects and characteristics, and eventually it all integrated. (he hopes!) In any case, it's possible to start with either end of the stick.
     
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm not sure of this. I think Kill Bill is plot driven. I haven't watched all Tarantino moves, and I don't remember much about some I have watched.

    The revenge story archetype is very rich for plot driven story telling if it's about the journey from injustice to achieving justice or revenge. The first John Wick movie would be another great example.

    OTOH, from what I remember of Lady Vengeance, that was a character driven story about vengeance.

    The MICE quotient is an interesting consideration in this discussion, if maybe a sidebar, because the "E" (event) types of stories might trend toward being plot driven and the "C" (character) type stories might trend toward being character driven...But what of Milieu and Idea? Lady Vengeance seemed more about the idea of revenge than about the actual revenge, even if the revenge happened. The film is eponymously titled, and the focus for exploring the idea was through the characters of Lady Vengeance and the parents of slain children, so...
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Milieu and Idea
    I'll bring up SF again, where these are often center stage.
     
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  9. Cady

    Cady Acolyte

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    I believe the plot-driven versus character-driven debate is one of those things which can only be seen about a story in retrospect. It allows people to discuss a story after it has been written, but I'm not certain it aids in actually creating the story.

    In the story I'm creating now, my main character is reacting to the choices that other characters have made. Would that be plot driven or would that be character driven? Someone could argue plot driven because the main character is being forced to act. Some could argue character driven because characters in the story are making choices which push the story forward. Did the villain's attack force the main character into action? Yes. Did the main character have a choice in how they reacted? Yes. Does the main character have a chance to turn the tables on the villain? Eventually. Is there more going on than the main character realizes? Yes, but how much of that do my readers need to know and at what pace should that information be revealed?

    In the process of writing, I find it is more helpful to determine what is the primary motivation of each of my characters. Are they fearful? Are they lazy? I then find motivations that are in conflict with each other. What would fear drive a person to do? This doesn't always have to be logical, just understandable. What would greed make a person do? Do the characters try to go against their unhealthy desires? If so, how so? In creating a story, I find the tension in character desires that are in conflict with each other and build my plot using that.
     
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  10. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    It's the same thing under the hood. You're pushing the arcs and if the driver is external it seems to be plot driven whereas if the driver is character it seems that. The driver is interchangeable.
     
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  11. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

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    Tarantino is a legend. Back when he first appeared, an old boyfriend loved him so I think I saw everything. Great dialogue, especially Pulp Fiction.

    This is from the book I'm reading. This author has been writing screenplays/books/teaching twenty five years. In particular, his book is aimed at genre writers:

    I don’t believe that plot and character are different things. I think they are two different ways of looking at the same task in writing: transforming a character in ways that evoke emotions within your audience.


    Suede, Damon. Verbalize: bring stories to life & life to stories (live wire writer guides) . Evil Mastermind, LLC. Kindle Edition.
     
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  12. MythicMirror

    MythicMirror Dreamer

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    Well. Plot-driven is more about the plot. Character driven is more about the character. And character-driven are more successful because they make kinda fall you in love with them. So, you won’t forget it and buy the next book more likely.
     
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