Plot Driven vs. Character Driven
In a plot-driven story the events of the story move the story forward and cause the character to react to those events. Characters are secondary to the plot. They act in accordance with the plot and do not create events or situations on their own.
In a character-driven story the character moves the story forward through action and choices. She initiates the events of the story and causes the events to happen. Each scene is instigated by the characters within it.
Think of the films Independence Day and Signs. Both are about aliens coming to take over Earth. At first glance this type of story may seem like a plot-driven story, pute and simple.
But while the characters in Independence Day react to the events around them (plot driven), the characters in Signs create the events around them and are the main focus of the story (character driven). They even have issues and problems to deal with outside of the aliens coming to visit. They learn lessons from their experience and grow stronger as a family.
There are usually six decisions for you to make to create a well-developed structure for your story:
1. What Dramatic Throughlines should you use?
2. What type of Conflict works best for your story?
3. What Genre should you select?
4. What Structure Model works best?
5. How many Situations will you use?
6. How much Research should you conduct?
Selecting a Dramatic Throughlines
A Dramatic Throughline is the main direction of the story. It is not the goal, story, or theme but the basic thrust of the plot. It asks the central question that keeps the reader reading.
Every time you come up with a story idea you already have decided on a Dramatic Throughline. You know if you want the main character to be successful or not; you just may not have known this was called a Dramatic Throughline. Although most stories are about happy, successful characters, you can choose to have your characters fail in the end.
There are five types of Dramatic Throughlines:
1. The main character succeeds.
2. The main character is defeated.
3. The main character abandons her goal.
4. The main character’s goal is undefined.
5. The reader creates the goal.
Even if the story you are working on is plot driven, the Dramatic Throughline is still all about the character and her goal. For example, Jurassic Park is very plot driven, yet it is the characters’ goal of surviving that keeps the story alive.
There would be no story at all without characters. The character’s goal is in direct relationship to the plot. The goal is either conceived by the character (character driven) or the goal is pushed upon the character by the plot (plot driven), but either way it is still the character’s goal.
Selecting a Conflict
Once you know your Dramatic Throughline you can then select the Conflict you would like to predominately use throughout your story. Conflicts sustain and reinforce the theme. There are six basic Conflicts:
1. Relational Conflict
2. Situational Conflict
3. Inner Conflict
4. Paranormal Conflict
5. Cosmic Conflict
6. Social Conflict
Conflict, at its core, is the opposition of forces that serve to advance the plot. It can be between people, about ideas, or from natural or man-made circumstances. In some stories and even individual scenes, several different types of Conflict are present at the same time:
Perhaps a young man wants to move away from his family and they are very upset with him about it (Relational Conflict). He is torn by feelings of guilt about his decision (Inner Conflict). He wants to move in with his girlfriend but the society he lives within shuns such a thing (Societal Conflict) and so does his religion (Cosmic Conflict).
Selecting a Genre
The choice of Genre will greatly influence your story. When thinking about a Genre for your story, think about what it is you want to say or what it is you want your reader/viewer to feel. Also think about what you like to read/view yourself. Is there a specific Genre you love and know very well?
Try your story idea in several different Genres and see if one gives you more excitement or more possibilities than another one does. The following are the main contemporary Genres:
1. Action: Action stories have a lot of activity, effects and action. They are fast-paced and designed for pure audience escapism. They are primarly plot driven. Some subcategories are:
· Superhero: The hero has exceptional power or prowess.
· Underdog: The hero is misjudged and not thought to have power.
· Revenge: The hero wants to revenge against those who have wronged him.
· Savior: The hero must save everyone.
2. Adventure: Adventures are just that—adventurous, but they are also filled with risk and the unknown. Adventure stories are all about seeking something outside of ordinary experience that can be hazardous. Some subcategories are:
· Expeditions: The hero is venturing into the unknown.
· Treasure Hunts: The hero is searching for something.
· Discovery: The hero finds something thought impossible to find or something thought impossible to prove the existence of.
3. Children: Children’s books are the same as adult books when it comes to Genre. There are mystery children’s stories (“What is that monster in the woods?”). And there are jouney children’s stories. The difference is that you are writing for a specific audience at a specidifc reading and comprehension level.
4. Comedy: Comedies are subjective and as varied as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Seinfeld. What one person thinks of as funny may be completely different from what another person thinks as funny. Comedies usually exaggerate situations, language and characters for effect. Some subcategories are:
· Satire: Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose
· Parody: A mockery or work that imitates the styles of another for comic effect or ridicule.
· Farce: A work in which improbable plot situations or exaggerated characters are used for humorous effect.
· Dark Comedy: A story with disturbing elements and morbid or grimly satiric humor.
· Slapstick: Comedy of physical action; e.g. a hero steps on the end of a rake and gets hit in the head.
· Screwball: Impulsively whimsical or foolish or a totally unsound crazy scheme.
5. Creative Nonfiction: This is a hybrid of literature and non-fiction that is based on true life events. A true story is dramatized, especially when there are gaps in the story that need to be filled. The non-fiction elements are based on facts, and the fictional elements are based on setting, scene, place and bringing out characterization. Some subcategories are:
· True Crime: Narrative follows the criminal or detective’s perspective.
· Journalism: Narrative reports the news through creatively telling the events as they happened rather than just giving the facts.
· Autobiography: Narrative is the history of your life and accomplishments.
· Biography: Narrative is the history of another person’s life and accomplishments.
· Crime: Crime stories are centered on characters who have done something wrong or at least accused of doing so as the real criminal gets away.
6. Diary/Journal: These stories have first person point of view accounts given in diary entries written by the main character. Think Robinson Crusoe and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The main character talks to the reader firsthand through her diary. The diary can take up the entire story or just be small entries sprinkled throughout the story.
7. Drama: Dramas are serious stories that portray realistic characters in realistic settings. They can also be very over-the-top, exaggerating the seriousness of the problem and the character’s reaction to those problems. Some subcategories are:
· Realistic: The drama is a very real and everyday type.
· Over-the-Top: Exaggerated problems and reactions to them are presented; characters may be “drama queens.”
8. Fantasy: Fantasies transcend the bounds of human possibility and physical laws. Magic, myth, and impossibilities abound. Other worlds are explored; characters can have supernatural powers, and the laws of physics are challenged. Anything is possible. Just be careful to define the laws of the world you are creating and stick to them.
9. Historical/Epic: Historical fiction mixes detailed historical research with imagined characters. This fiction may be turned upside down if the author wishes to imagine an alternate series of events that change history. Epics are often historical in nature and cover a large expanse of time set against a rich, vast setting.
10. Horror: Horror stories are meant to frighten the audience. Challenging cmmon fears works best here because everyone can relate to them, such as being left all alone in the dark, having a car break down in the middle of the night on a deserted street, or getting into an elevator with a scary-looking man. Some subcategories are:
· Violence: Many horror stories have violence or the threat of violence.
· Dark Aspects of Life: Other types of horror expose the darker, more sinister aspects of human nautre.
· Psychological: This type of horror plays with the reader’s mind. Think Dial M for Murder. It is the helpless situaion that evokes fear.
11. Inspirational: Inspirational stories are meant to inspire readers into a new way of thinking, feeling or acting.
12. Musical: Musicals are usually films and plays that use song and dance to convey significant parts of the story.
13. Mystery: In Mystery, a character needs to answer a question that solves something that is unknown—where is the missing child? Who killed the CEO? Who stole the money? This Genre is heavy on the rewriting stage, as once the answer is found, you have to go back and make sure clues are planted. Some subcategories are:
· Hard-Boiled: These are gritty “noir” stories with grim details and tough, hard-nosed detectives.
· Cozy: Country houses and villages, with peaceful and genteel exteriors, are usually the setting. There is minimal violence and eveything is nicely wrapped up by the conclusion.
· Police: The protagonist is usually on the police force and the crime is solved by using the forces’ resources and procedures.
· Detective: The protagonist is usually a licensed private investigator or ex-cop who works alone or with a larger agency.
· Amateur Detective: Nosy neighbors and inquisitive civilians get involved in an Amateur Detective story. Sometimes they are meddlers.
14. Suspense/Thriller: Thrillers contain intense excitement and anticipation. The audience is left in the dark most of the time, figuring things out as the characters do. Who is just around the corner? Will the hero get caught? Who is lying? Will the car keep running long enough for the hero to make it home?
15. Gothic: These are stories of the macabre that invoke terror. Gothic stories feature terrifying experiences in ancient locations such as castles, crypts and dungeons. Gothic tales have tended to examine gender roles. In many Gothic storeies there are very powerful male characters (such as Dracula) that “liberate” female characters, taking them out of the domestic sphere. In other Gothic tales the female lead has to deal with a very dangerous, alpha-male type of character. Contemporary Gothic tales place the female characer in a more powerful role.
16. Political: Also considered social writing, political stories make a statement regarding social or political views or ways of being. The primary focus of the work supports a social or political view or critiques it. There is an element of exploration within them, as the writer is not trying to force-feed the reader an agenda. Herman Melville, Jack London, Norman Mailer, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood have grappled with this type of Genre, balancing radicalism and art.
17. Persuasive: This type of story is aimed at converting the reader to a certain belief or idea. All that does not support the belief or idea is discarded. Often these works are one-sided and do not have any element of exploration within them. If a cerain type of person is disliked, the characters that represent that type are stereotypical and undeveloped.
18. Romance: Romances deal with love and affairs of the heart. The characters are often passionate, with unfulfilled desires and dreams. Two characters meet, fall in love, and try to form a bond against all odds. Some subcategories are:
· Contemporary: Stories are set in the present day.
· Fantasy: Stories deal with supernatual themes.
· Historical: Stories take plac e during a specific time period with all the clothing, mores, and events of that period.
· Inspirational: Stories inspire the reader and evoke hope for love.
· Regency: Monarchs, rulers, and kings abound.
· Romantic Suspense: Elements of suspense drive the romance forward.
· Time Travel: One character travels across time to meet the other one.
· Paranormal: One character lives in regular realitly while the other character has paranormal abilities of some sort.
19. Science Fiction: Science Fiction stories are based on new or futuristic technological or biological advancements. Inventions abound, whether it is a new type of law, as in Minority Report, or a new way to travel through space. This Genre has the most fun with the “What if” question writers love to ask. Anything is possible here. It just has to be made believeable or at least probable. Set up the rules of the world you are creating and stick to them. Some subcategories are:
· Supernatural: Stories include gods/goddesses, ghosts, miracles, aliens, vampires, monsters, demons, psychics, angels, fairies, unusual powers and abilities.
· Realistic: Stories take normal everyday situations and twist them into a shocking conclusion.
20. Western: Westerns come mainly from American writers and the American film industry. They involve settings in the Wild West, with the feeling of the open range. Westerns have themes of honor, redemption, revenge, and finding one’s identity or place in life.