Plot-driven vs. Character-driven novels, Part 2

iUniverse has been discussing the differences between plot-driven and character-driven novels, and today we give some further examples of each.

plot-drivenThe earliest novels, and the books we generally read in school, fall into the category of character-driven. Charles Dickens, arguably the most successful novelist of all time, was able to create momentum in his novels through his ability to create tangible characters that aroused feelings in his readers. It is difficult to discern a definite plot in The Pickwick Papers, but both Mr. Pickwick and his valet Sam Weller have lived on in memory. In fact, the story – originally printed serially in newspapers – was selling poorly until Sam Weller’s character was introduced. After that, sales went up by 1,000 per cent!


Modern writers of character-driven novels tend to be in the genre of “literary fiction.” Examples include John Updike and Philip Roth. Roth’s The Human Stain does not have much of a plot, and the narrator actually tells us the conclusion of the story very early. Instead, it is a study of a complex character named Coleman Silk, with whom the reader becomes more and more fascinated, and whose depth moves the story along.


Robert Ludlum

Novels of a plot-driven nature certainly bring in the bucks. Skilled authors create a hook in the form of a tangible problem or objective, and then take the reader by the hand. A plot-driven book is generally easier reading than one that is character-driven, which is why one sees airport bookshops stocked with Ludlum, Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the like. While plot-driven novels do not stand the test of time as well as ones that are character-driven, two of the most famous characters in fiction – Sherlock Holmes and James Bond – are from types of stories that would be primarily described as plot-driven.

The challenge for a writer who wants to both sell well and be remembered is to combine the two. Plot-driven writers need to be careful that putting too much character information does not inhibit the pace of the story. As for character-driven writers, they should keep in mind that people read novels partly for entertainment, and not just as a psychological study. For a book that is solely character-driven, make sure your characters are as fascinating as the most interesting human beings you’ve ever met.

Can you think of some novels that combine the two approaches? Write to us and let us know!

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