Do They Come Out the Same?

When I first started writing, I concentrated on plot. I’m still a mostly plot-driven writer. WHAT happens in a story pops into my head before WHO is in the story. But over the years, the characters matter to me more and more, almost to the point that the people in the story are as important as the story itself.

On my first draft, though, the plot’s what I hammer out. This happens, then that happens, and that causes something else to happen. I pay more attention to setting and senses on the first write than I used to, and I add a few feelings in but not many. How did X react to that news? Etc. But it’s not until the second day that I go back and flesh the scenes and chapters out. Without that second polish, my work would be too lean, too simple. On the second day, I ask myself about what else might be going on in the scene. Who’s there? How do they feel? What do they think about what’s happening? Does it change any of the dynamics between people?

So the first draft is mostly about what’s happening. The second draft’s about characters.

Most of my friends start writing, driven by their characters. The characters’ reactions lead them to what happens next in the story. They have to work to keep their plots moving in the right direction. My question is, if you get the balance right, can you tell a difference between plot driven and character driven stories? Can you find a balance that has the perfect amount of each?

I think some of it depends on the genre you write. Mysteries need a certain amount of plotting. Thrillers do, too. But the best plots are enhanced by characters who grab us like Louis Kincaid. His personal story is almost as important to me as solving the mystery he faces in each book. Literary novels are character-driven where the internal struggles of the character are more important than what happens in the story. But if nothing much happens, the story grows stale, so the character still has to face some conflict and work to resolve it. I consider Elizabeth George’s novels literary mysteries because the characters’ growth is almost as important as the mystery that needs to be solved.

I found a great blog about plot vs. character that might interest you: https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/#:~:text=A%20character-driven%20story%20is%20focused%20on%20studying%20the,inner%20transformation%20or%20the%20relationships%20between%20the%20characters. How do you write? Does the story come first or the characters? Do you have to go back to reinforce plot or add depth to characters? Or both?

And the truth? There is no right or wrong, but it helps to know what kind of writer you are, so that you can work to balance your finished product.

12 thoughts on “Do They Come Out the Same?

  1. I’m a character-driven writer. I always know the people in my stories and what motivates them before I decide on a situation/plot to put them in.

    When it comes to writing, I work characters and their feelings/motivations/reactions, etc., plus plot into my first draft. When I’m done and it’s time to give it another edit (I edit as I go), I’m mostly tweaking word choices, trimming words, and tightening.

    It’s so interesting how everyone works differently. Thanks for the link, Judi!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a fan of character-driven fiction. The people always interest me more than the plot. But I need a darn good plot to be fully satisfied. The article (and your insights) both prove that out: you need to balance the two.

    More often than not, when I’m in the conception stage, a character comes to mind with a problem. I’ll start to develop that problem (the plot), and the character begins to take shape. I guess I write outlines already balancing the two. At least, I hope readers think I hit a good balance. But in the end, I do like to have rich characters rather than simply bland, nondescript vehicles who advance the story.

    Great post, Judi.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I write character-driven fiction. Much like Mae, I know my characters before I know the situation, and I write with only a skeletal outline. Even with that, the characters sometimes take me in a different direction.

    I recently tried to plot a short story. After agonizing over it for weeks, I shelved it. I’m writing about my angst on my blog tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only write down short, sketchy ideas for short stories. Can’t seem to outline those for some reason. I’m leaving town tonight with no gadgets, but I’m writing a note to look at your blog when I get back after Easter. Sending you sympathy ahead of time:)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The plot still comes first to me. Then I start playing with the characters. They really come to life for me when I start filling in character wheels for the main characters.

    Like

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