What drives you – plot, character or both?

In literature, stories are said to be either plot-driven or character driven, but what about life?

Some novels are all about the plot – the unfolding of action and drama – while the development of character is less important. A Matthew Reilly novel would be an example – we don’t really need to know his characters other than have a vague sympathy or antipathy for them, as long as something blows up every few paragraphs.

Some novels are character driven – the characters are highly developed and the plot flows out of who they are. Jane Austen meticulously crafts her characters and we watch and see how they negotiate the life that unfolds from the authentic decisions they make.

Of course no story can be one or the other – plot requires people and unless we replace them with plankton, some degree of characterisation is required. People do things and have pleasures and problems and so a plot will develop. If all we had were just endless descriptions of people, we might prefer they were plankton.

For me it is the issue of starting point, of emphasis. One emphasises things happening more than the people to whom they happen. The other wants us to see inside people more fully as things happen.

I can’t help but draw a line to real life, our lives. Is our life more about plot – what’s happening next – or more about character – who we are as things happen?God calls himself the ‘author’ of our faith, so what kind of writer is he? From what I can see God the author loves a good plot, with many twists and turns, lots of action and a surprise at the end. But he springs this from character, his own and ours. He reveals his chracter and develops our own, graciously and honestly, like the most skillful writer, and makes room for the plot to spring from who we are becoming.

Too often we focus much more on the plot (what’s happening God?) than on character (who are you and who am I?) in the midst of things. Other times we are preoccupied with character (will I ever be ready?) and avoid the plot (trust Me and make a decision).

Balance may well be to spend time growing character with the aid of God’s grace and truth while pursuing the plot He is writing for us, by doing well what is at hand. To help, God has lived his own superbly well-balanced, character-plot driven human life as an example. Several non-fiction writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have recorded this life for our assistance… PH

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5 thoughts on “What drives you – plot, character or both?

  1. Thanks! I hope it works out! Though after posting every chapter I doubt any publisher will touch it. But it least I would know I can write the whole thing and keep it online, character profiles and all, without losing chunks and that would make it easier to write at odd moments for the other works. Thanks for the link – gonna check it out

  2. Sonia, all the best with your writing experiment. In response to your question, I think in life, as in fiction, character positions us to participate in the plot authentically. If your plot is to be believable, so too your characters. In life we are most likely to make the most of what happens next, if our character is well formed. Or so it seems to me. There’s a good article on plot-character by Australian author, Kylie Wilkins at http://fantasticthoughts.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/plot-versus-character/
    Enjoy.

  3. Balance may well be to spend time growing character with the aid of God’s grace and truth while pursuing the plot He is writing for us, by doing well what is at hand. To help, God has lived his own superbly well-balanced, character-plot driven human life as an example. Several non-fiction writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have recorded this life for our assistance… PH

    Loved this last paragraph, Peter. I agree, balance is the key whether talking about life with the Lord or fiction. However, in a relationship with the Lord, I think total devotion and loyalty to God and who He is ranks first and foremost, i.e., “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength…”. In reading, and in writing my own novels, I prefer a balance between plot and characterization; neither reigns supreme; both rank equally in importance. (JerryLWatson.wordpress.com)

  4. I am thinking life is more about what’s going to happen next. But a story should probably balance character and plot. Don’t you think? I lean more toward plot than character, but I always get annoyed at authors who sacrifice character in favor of plot.

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