Thursday

Follow-up to Plot vs. Character-Driven Novel

By Michael Neff

The subject illuminated in the post prior to this one deals with the issue of character-driven vs. plot-driven novels.

But let's step back for a moment. Is there actually a competition between these two forms (if they really exist) or a valid debate concerning these forms and how to define them, rate them, or genderize them into an arbitrary Mars vs. Venus thing? Perhaps we should look at other aspects of the novel before making a decision.

One could argue quite effectively that the best thriller novels are all character-driven. After all, what happens in the story that does not involve action or reaction on the part of the character(s)? Even blowing up a city is character driven. Antagonists are usually not insane, but clever and highly motivated. They create a catalyst event or condition and the other characters react. Who can deny this?


I would urge the writer to look deeper into the backbone of dramatic complication(s) in the story, regardless of genre. Far more often than not, the character arcs and the plot points are inextricably entwined about this story spine of drama. In the Algonkian workshops, we always use ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST as a prime example of this.

It may be valid to somehow set up a scoring system that gives more points to character than points of plot, but what would be the real point? Each novel is a synergy of these things and the debates over interpretation are often as useless as attempting to define literary works in an outdated Marxist or Freudian context.

Also, let's not confuse plot with premise. All commercial fiction seeks a marketing hook from the premise, the high concept. Plot is the detailed causal chain of events and twists in the story.

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