by C. Patrick Schulze
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First of all, we should understand the difference between the a character-driven novel and a plot-driven novel. A character-driven novel is based upon strong characters with a story built around them. In this case, the characters drive the PLOT. A plot-driven NOVEL is based upon a story with CHARACTERS created to fit the storyline. In effect, the plot drives the characters.
Novels that fit into a genre are most often plot-driven. In genre fiction, the major focus is to accomplish some task such as destroy the bad guy and save everybody else. It's of lesser importance who does this. As a rule of thumb, the hero chooses between a rock and a hard place and his decisions move the story forward. As the story develops, so does the hero.
In character-driven novels, the author creates a hero who's thoughts, emotions and other characteristics drive the story. In contrast to the plot-driven novel, as the character develops, so does the plot. Here, the hero doesn't so much choose between the rock and the hard place as create the rock and the hard place by his personality.
One advantage a character-drive novel has is characters carry endless possibilities within them. Plot does not. In fact, Jim Thompson says, “There is only one plot—things are not as they seem.”
A problem with character-driven novels is they often has weak plots. In contrast, a disadvantage to the plot-driven novel is they often lead to bland characters.
So, which type of novel should you write? A great part of that answer is based upon your personality. If you'll pardon my broad brush, I'll say people who write character-driven novels are often the type who focus on feelings, imagination and creativity, right-brainers, if you will. They steer clear of outlines and have a tendency to write from the cuff. In contrast, I believe plot-driven novelists lean toward the more logical, rational thinkers among us and are left-brainers. They'll outline, draw plot points and all the rest. I think it's similar to the difference between logical thinkers and emotional thinkers. Both types work well, they just use different tools.
So, which type of novel is better? Come on now… you've got an opinion. I know you do. The answer, in my opinion, is neither. I think the best novels have both strong characters and strong plots. I believe your success will improve if you have the ability to weave strong characters and a powerful plot together.
Should you write a plot driven novel with thin characters or a character-driven novel with a thin plot? Neither. If you have a strong plot and weak characters, you have a plot-driven novel with poor characterization. The reverse, of course, is also true. Plot and characterization are not mutually exclusive, any more than are dialogue and character emotions. All aspects of your novel must be woven together for best results.
So, what type of writer are you and how does your writing method hamper your writing?
Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.
C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"