I read pretty much every genre under the sun, but regardless of genre, I love character-driven stories the most. Something about getting a behind-the-scenes look at people’s internal struggles and issues, and how they work their way through them to a better place, fascinates me. Always has.
Maybe it’s from all my years in marketing and sales, where I had to study why people make the decisions they do, and how to appeal to their desires to get them to take action. Or maybe it’s from my childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family and trying to understand the why of it all. Whatever it is, I love that peek into a person’s head and heart.
Oddly, it took me a good four years to realize I write character-driven stories. It wasn’t until I was sitting in front of an agent a few weeks ago, discussing the novel that I’m currently editing, that the light bulb went off. Now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Basically, a character-driven story is focused on inner conflicts and the personal development of the character. A plot-driven story is more focused on external conflicts and action, and how they keep a character from reaching the goal. You can have a story that includes both internal and external conflicts, but if the main point is the way the character changes over the course of the story, it’s a character-driven story.
Most thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels are plot-driven. All good romance novels, and many books in the chick lit or literary fiction categories are character-driven.
I start with a story idea, jot it down in a few paragraphs, then spend days getting to know my characters. Who are they? Where do they come from? What’s important to them? Are they religious, college-educated, only-children? How were they raised and where? What do they do with their spare time? What are their strengths and weaknesses, their fears and joys? And on and on.
The possibilities for character-driven stories are as endless as people’s backgrounds, upbringing, and beliefs. Someone who was in an abusive relationship, will have different issues than someone who had the love of their life die unexpectedly. Someone who was raised by their grandparents, will have a different belief system and way of life than somebody who was orphaned at the age of two, or someone who lived at home until their mid-20s.
Once I have a pretty good idea of who they are as a person, I set them loose in difficult circumstances and let the fun begin. What they do, how they respond, and how they change, are all driven by the kind of person they are when the story opens. From there, I usually write in order from Chapter 1 straight through to the end. Because if I don’t know what’s happened to the character in Chapter 5, I won’t know how they’re going to react in Chapter 6, and so on.
This helps me create realistic, human characters with dreams and fears and flaws. And don’t you just love it when a character becomes a better version of themselves, and achieves something that seemed impossible? I know I do.
Do you prefer character-driven or plot driven stories, or a mix of the two (like romantic suspense)? And why?
Want to know more about my books? Check out my series of character-driven ski romance novellas here.