The Plot Driven ———–> Character Driven Swingometer


Nila E. White is thoughtfully going through a number of rules for creating a story. Number 4 in the series insists on the need for plot. Of course I agree but as these things inevitably do, it usually comes down to a debate between plot and character driven prose.

I cannot understand when readers swing one way or another – as though there is no middle ground or that an apparent middle ground is somehow akin to sitting on the fence and lambasted by both “sides”. The debate of course, is usually between those who consider that books should tell a story and those who think that plot is unimportant compared to the development and personal triumphs and tragedies of the people of the story – events be damned.

While my personal tastes swing firmly toward plotting and losing myself in a good story, I do not think plot should mean the sacrifice of characterisation. The two are not mutually exclusive and I cannot understand the black and white thinking of avid readers who think that they are. It is treated like a swingometer as though being heavily weighted in one direction means a reduction of the other – nonsense!

Let me give the example of my own novel. Set in a future medieval society, a corrupt church is persuing a policy of aggressive expansionism in Europe and using an army to crush religious and sectarian insurgents that they see as a threat to them creating a theocratic empire. They are also attempting to spread their influence beyond the borders of western Christendom into Orthodox territories and eventually, Islamic influenced areas. There is a clear and definite plot; a series of events lead into the assassination of the British king and a desperate search for his daughter – the only heir to the throne.

So, this is very plot driven as you can see. Yet there are four primary characters. One clear hero, one clear villain, one anti-hero whose story becomes complex through the novel (layers upon layers upon layers to this guy and his story does not end in the first novel – it is just beginning), and one anti-villain (I define this as a person who seems like a hero, acts like a hero but you’re never sure where their priorities and loyalties truly lie… ultimately revealed to be a villain whose reason for being so is complex).

I like to think that I have struck a good balance here and with the sequel, there is just as much emphasis on the importance of that balance. The anti-hero is learning about his past and this plot is as important as the main plot. The church is changed yet elements within it are rebelling against the new order and intend to reinstate the autocratic and violent side it no longer has. I have enjoyed writing it and it is far more intense both character and plotwise.


3 thoughts on “The Plot Driven ———–> Character Driven Swingometer

  1. Wow – that sounds like a great book! Can’t wait to read it.

    And I do agree with you. Balance is key. And I actually think that Pixar rule touches on both. If you notice in their formula (yikes! the f-word), there’s a ‘because’ in there. I think that’s their way of marrying plot and character story.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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