July 16, 2020, 02:19:37 AM

Author Topic: Character Driven vs Plot Driven  (Read 301 times)

Offline Peat

Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« on: May 27, 2020, 04:55:03 PM »
In my blog thread Bea had this to say


Can't we just talk about plot-driven vs. character-driven?
I keep thinking about this, and I think it was you who mentioned it, and I think I'm moving towards character-driven, meaning I need to care about the characters to care about the plot.
In Priory of the orange tree I loved the characters and was heavily invested - and I still love it, despite having read a few reviews highlighting plot problems. I contrast that with Weeks' Lightbringer series, this gave me the words to explain why I really liked the first 3 books but found the last 2 very meh: I cared about the characters in those initial books, but then he changed their personality, some more than others, and I didn't really like them anymore, and that really brought my enjoyment down...

And I thought it'd be interesting to talk about character and plot, how we see them interlinked, and where our preferences lie (beyond both).


For me, when I talk about Character Driven/Plot Driven, I'm thinking mainly of the sort of writerly definition - https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/ gives a good description. The TL:DR version of that article is:

Most good works have a lot of both because one feeds into the other, but there's usually a primary focus. Plot is about What the character does and How they do it - Character is about What the character becomes and How they come to the decision.

It's a kinda woolly definition but I do find it useful (if nothing else than for starting arguments) and think when you try looking at a lot of books, you start to see it.

Using this definition, I'm not sure what I prefer other than, well, both. A common sign of good fiction is when impressive feats of prowess have unintended results that cause a lot of soul-searching. However, I do find that when I'm talking to other people about books, I'm most likely to talk about the characters, so it's probably the character-led part that's slightly most important to me.

I guess the other part is that if we're looking at things that kill my interest in a book then after prose, bad characterisation or characters I don't care for is the biggest killer.

So maybe I am sure and it is character. I need a good plot for the book to feel right, but character does seem to be more important to me.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Rostum

Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2020, 06:43:41 PM »
Yes

Both please

In fact all everything being brilliant please.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2020, 06:53:43 PM »
^ ;D

But when you try to review a book, I mean, if you liked it or not, do you tend to focus more on the characters/people or on the things that they do?
For me, if the people are annoying, I don't care if they are the best at whatever, or save the world, or something similar, hehe
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Offline Bender

Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2020, 07:32:38 PM »
When I think of Character driven books, I think of Long Price Quartet or Thomas Covenant type books which are really not my cup of tea. Kingkiller would be an exception, but that'd due to prose more than character (who is actually badly written)

Would you consider Hobb's Fitz/Fool books character driven? Perhaps the first trilogy, but the rest moves to plot.

I'd rather prefer a book with epic plot but well written characters.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2020, 04:23:15 AM »
I was recently thinking about plot vs character (although, yes, it should be less a vs and more a synergy) when I was reading AK Larkwood's The Unspoken Name, which has a sword-and-sorcery feel to it, but it is very much driven by the characters - which I use because the big story points and arcs in it are based in emotional decisions and whether this leads to outcomes that fulfill the fundamental character needs. Do they save the world? Yeah, yeah, sure, that's important, but can the MC save her love interest to have a crack at asking her out?? is the bigger question. And the pivotal question for whether she can get help with this comes down to the emotional arc of a supporting character.

Conversely, I think of a plot-driven story as one where the key points and arcs are about events and acts - can we defeat the bad guy? can we win the battle? can we get the sword so we have a chance at doing those things?

I find that character-driven stories expend more effort up front in introducing the characters. They are less about "pacing" and more about making the reader care about the characters. Then the story springs out of the characters situations and needs and paths. Often, to me, plot-driven stories feel like "meet these people who will be important in the coming events!" whereas character-driven is "meet these people, they are going to go through some stuff!"

I often find that plot-driven stories fail to grab me because there's lots of stuff happening, but I don't care about any of it. This is especially a problem for me in grimdark, where those happenings are no fun to read and the characters are not intrinsically likeable. Abercrombie works for me because he puts solid effort into making his characters relatable, even if I would still call his works plot-driven (with strong character underpinning). As an example of the flip - a character-driven story with solid plot - I'd say The Lies of Locke Lamora, which hooks with character early and often, and still has a rambunctious plot. And yes, Priory too. It's clear very early on what the finale action piece is going to be, and the big dramatic question throughout is about whether these people can get there (or will they lose their ways, fall into despair, not grow like they need to?)

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2020, 08:13:02 AM »
Often, to me, plot-driven stories feel like "meet these people who will be important in the coming events!" whereas character-driven is "meet these people, they are going to go through some stuff!"
Yes, this!

Quote
I often find that plot-driven stories fail to grab me because there's lots of stuff happening, but I don't care about any of it. This is especially a problem for me in grimdark, where those happenings are no fun to read and the characters are not intrinsically likeable.
Not sure if you ever tried, but Anna Stephens' grimdark books are also quite good at making you really involved with the characters.
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Offline Peat

Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2020, 10:28:23 AM »
^ ;D

But when you try to review a book, I mean, if you liked it or not, do you tend to focus more on the characters/people or on the things that they do?
For me, if the people are annoying, I don't care if they are the best at whatever, or save the world, or something similar, hehe

When I review I talk mainly about the characters, but that's partly because going into what they do gets a bit spoiler-tastic.


Also, I suspect that for myself, the best way for a book to not have annoying characters is to not spend a bunch of time in their head, and that characters I'd like in plot-driven books are characters I wouldn't like in character-driven books. I think Bender's question about the first Hobb trilogy being character-driven highlights that to me - to me, yes it is, or at least very finely balanced, and I ended up not finishing it because I couldn't get over being stuck in Fitz's head for so much moping and self-hinderance.

I think Rand's madness arc is another such thing that alienated a lot of readers - and I think in that case, one could maybe argue a case for the style of Wheel of Time pushing more character-driven as it progressed. To me, that's a big risk of character-driven.

Looking at Cupiscent's post... I feel I prefer the arcs you get from character-driven, but prefer a plot driven approach to getting there (although those aren't firm preferences). Less internal waffle and more showing character depth through doing.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2020, 01:25:43 AM »
I often find that plot-driven stories fail to grab me because there's lots of stuff happening, but I don't care about any of it. This is especially a problem for me in grimdark, where those happenings are no fun to read and the characters are not intrinsically likeable.
Not sure if you ever tried, but Anna Stephens' grimdark books are also quite good at making you really involved with the characters.

I actually bounced pretty fast on Godblind because it was a solid hit of Big Things Happening and I didn't care about any of the people... oops?  ;D Solid example of "we are all different and that's part of the rich tapestry of the genre".

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Character Driven vs Plot Driven
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2020, 08:18:20 AM »
I often find that plot-driven stories fail to grab me because there's lots of stuff happening, but I don't care about any of it. This is especially a problem for me in grimdark, where those happenings are no fun to read and the characters are not intrinsically likeable.
Not sure if you ever tried, but Anna Stephens' grimdark books are also quite good at making you really involved with the characters.

I actually bounced pretty fast on Godblind because it was a solid hit of Big Things Happening and I didn't care about any of the people... oops?  ;D Solid example of "we are all different and that's part of the rich tapestry of the genre".
Hehe yes, and to be fair, I think the ones I cared more about got the focus/development on books 2 and 3.
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