Plot driven narratives vs character driven narratives

ImageToday’s post deals with something some of you might (or might not) know about. It is the difference between a plot driven narrative and a character driven narrative. Before we go any further there is one thing that needs to be clear: in differentiating between these two narrative is does not mean that a character driven narrative lacks a plot or the other way around. What it means is some writers tend to write stories that focus on moving the plot forward with the development of characters being a secondary part of the narrative (plot driven narratives). The flip side of this style is the character driven narrative where the actions of the characters dictate the events that make up the plot of the story.

Now, neither is inherently wrong, although people do tend to argue the importance of one style over the other. I had quite a few teachers in college stress the character driven narrative over the plot driven narrative. I do see where they are coming from because the majority of literature that I read as an undergraduate fell under the parameters of character based narrative. 

Some of you may be wondering how to tell the difference between the two narratives, and sometimes it can be very hard to tell. The way I have found to be helpful for me is to first look and see if the book I’m reading is listed under a specific genre. Think of it in the way you walk into a bookstore and everything is listed as mystery, romance, science fiction, and literature. To me, it seems that I find books using plot driven narrative style in the science fiction section and others that are categorized by the over arching atmosphere of the book. For instance, a mystery novel (typically) focuses on the good guy dealing with the solving the clues that will eventually lead him to the bad guy.


I understand that not all mysteries are like this, but for the sake of making the distinction between the two narratives, we’ll use it as our example.

Walking over to the literature section of our imaginary bookstore I pull a book of the shelf. Read the back, and the little teaser says there is mystery, romance, and action within the pages. So how does this book differ from the books we just left in the other sections? It’s a good question, and the difference is that their genres don’t dominate the overarching feel of the story. There may be elements of mystery and romance in this story, but it does not dictate how the characters act within the novel. The characters dictate the flow of the story and the elements of those other genres simply arise out of their actions.

Think about any novel you read in a classroom.

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Sure, there were elements of other genres within the novel, but those instances were created by the characters. Characters that are complex, deep, and develop throughout the progression of the novel. Plot driven narratives can have character development, I am by no means saying they don’t, but if we were to compare the two types of novel side by side we would most likely see that there would be greater character complexity in the book filed away under literature. 

I’m sure there are some of you out there who are going to argue that genre books can have great character development, and I’m not here to argue with you. I’d heartily agree with you, but in terms of showing you the difference between the two narratives that was the best way I knew how to go about it.

Now, it can seem like a small difference, but when you realize that it’s there it becomes huge in terms of understanding how stories are written. The larger issue is the argument that has arisen from these two narratives: which one is the correct way to write a novel?

And that will be discussed in the second half of this post which will appear next week! Again, I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I think it’s important for people to see the difference because I believe it can enhance the experience of the reader if he or she understands the subtler nuances of narrative structures. 

Feel free to ask me questions! If not, have a great rest of your day!

Happy Reading

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