Plot-driven vs. Character-driven novels

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As we’ve stated before, the genres that sell the most books are Romance, Mystery, Self-help, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Horror. What you will notice about three of these — horror, sci-fi/fantasy, and mystery – is that the stories in each are all primarily plot-driven. In contrast, when you think back to the books you read in high school or university – i.e. the classics – you probably recall them being more driven by the characters. So let’s have a look at the elements of these two approaches to storytelling.

plot driven

Isaac Asimov

Plot-driven novels, to begin, tell their stories in a linear manner. While there are indeed living, breathing characters, the action of the story takes strong precedence over the characters’ inner thoughts and backgrounds. The writer’s, and the story’s, emphasis is on what moves the plot forward. The effect is that many of these types of novels are “page-turners”, where the story develops momentum and adrenaline. Examples include the works of John Grisham, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Ludlum.


plot driven

Herman Melville

Character-driven novels focus much more on the inner lives of the dramatis personae and also have a more grand, sweeping theme. With novels such as these, it may actually be difficult to identify a plot during the first half of the book, or altogether. Instead, the story is moved forward by the readers feeling an intimacy with the characters, whom they get to learn about thoroughly.

We’ll list some examples later, but for now, one novel that stands out as character-driven is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The plot has a weak momentum, but the narrative is carried along by our increasing acquaintance with the central character, Captain Ahab, who is psychologically very deep and disturbed. Ultimately, it is his release of all of his inner demons that brings about the conclusion of the story.

We’ll be back shortly with Part Two! In the meantime, which types of novels do you prefer, plot-driven or character-driven? Let us know!

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