Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Are Your Stories Driven by Plot or Characterization--Katheryn Rivas

Today, we have a guest post from the awesome Katheryn Rivas. Please spread the word.

Do you write stories driven by plot or characterization?

Which do you like more, a story with a well developed beginning, middle, and end or a rambling story
the follows an untraditional narrative path? This is the main question that separates plot-driven stories
from those established around the actions of characters. Authors usually design a compelling story around
an interesting plot or a fascinating character, either of which is capable of being the centerpiece in the
structure of a great tale.

Plot driven stories are those that follow a set of events established or hinted at somewhere near the
beginning of the story: a character has a quest that they have to complete in order to save a loved one,
one unsuspecting person suddenly becomes the key to thwarting some dark plot, or some catalyzing
event sets things in motion. These are stories where one-dimensional characters abound, usually for the
point of furthering the overall plot of a story. Everything that occurs in plot driven stories occur to move
characters onto the next phase of the main plot.

For instance, you might read a story where a young girl from a modest upbringing unexpectedly becomes
the heroine to overthrow some dreadful agent of evil. Once the general plot has been established (the
girl must defeat the agent or else something awful happens), every event and character you read about
will advance that plot in some way. The girl might meet some wise master of magic to train her for her
impending battle; she may befriend some foreign allies who know certain details of this evil agent’s lair,
and so on. The point is that this story is designed to follow an overarching plot that must be fulfilled by
the characters within. There’s a starting point and an ending point to these stories and you’ll know very
clearly when they occur.

Character driven works of fiction are quite another animal. These stories don’t operate under any
conventions of plotting or narrative structure. These stories start with a character—usually one with a
bunch of quirks or a troubled past—and function to slowly unfold the intricacies of that character as they
interact with other characters in the story. Sometimes you can never really tell where a character-driven
story is going, which can be either a blessing or a curse for a reader. The author might build up a character
with a mysterious past only to kill them off in the end, leaving you wondering what their real story might
have been. Alternately the author could make a character that resonates with you to a chilling degree
because they devote so much time to fleshing out the thoughts and feelings of that character, rather than
putting that character through a complex plot to see how they act.

Character driven stories are rarely satisfying in the conventional sense of listening to a story; there is no
set beginning, middle and end to these tales. But they also give the author unlimited freedom to go on
tangents, explore the unknown, and experiment with styles and themes that wouldn’t normally work in
a conventional, plot-driven work. They’re not for everyone, but they’re a nice alternative to typical plot-
driven fare every now and again.

How do you structure your stories?


This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes for online universities blog. She welcomes
your comments at her email Id:


  1. My last piece was more focused on characters, but there is still a basic plot line (beginning, middle, end). Even when characters are the main focus the book still needs to be about something.

  2. I like to balance the two so neither overshadows the other and they work together as one.

  3. I like plot-driven stories with advanced character-building. Why not have both?

  4. Interesting post. I tend to structure my stories around plot more than character--though some kind of combination of the two is best, I think!

  5. I'm with the others. I have both plot and well developed characters. Most character-based stories I've read have structured beginnings, middles, and ends. Obviously Katheryn and I haven't been reading the same books. ;)

  6. Great post. My stories are mostly character driven, but the plot drives the character, so it's really both.

  7. I'm a character driven writer, but I make certain that there's a strong plot. Otherwise there's no point to writing a novel in the first place. Short stories? Maybe.

  8. I can't separate these two story elements and I almost look at them as the old chicken and egg issue. Neither one can come first in my mind. They're interconnected.