Character-driven vs. story-driven

What is everyone’s opinion on character-driven plots versus story-driven stories? I, myself, am partial to the latter, but I’m curious about what everyone else thinks, and which one you prefer in IF.

For anyone who doesn’t know, plot-driven stories focus on external events and action, while character-driven plots focus on character development and reveal deeper layers of the characters presented.

To clarify, a character-driven story would be like the novels “Everything I never told you” or “The Rest of Us Just Live Here,” which have overarching plots (the investigation of Lydia’s death and surviving until graduation, respectively), but the EXTERNAL story doesn’t drive the plot forward. Instead, it’s about the character’s internal lives, motivations, and self-understanding.

A story-driven plot can still have good characters, BUT the plot is pushed forward by external actions, such as in “Criminal Minds” or the Sherlock Holmes books.

The PREVIOUS poll was largely character-driven, however there was some confusion over what that meant, so I’ve reworded the post.

Character or story driven?
  • Character driven
  • Story driven

0 voters

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I’m certainly down for a plot-driven story too, but I do generally prefer character-driven ones.

To kind of flip it a bit, I’ll add that regardless of what’s driving the story, I am generally willing to read a story with a boring, formulaic, or just bad plot if it had characters that I love, but a story that has a fantastic plot but bad characters is one I still might enjoy but would probably engage in less.

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In a CYOA definitely character driven.
As for traditional novel… Well in my project they are basically the same thing (that’s my thought at least)

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For a (traditional) novel I really don’t care, as long as the story’s good.

For CYOA games, I personally like character-driven stories more, because we get to discover things about ourselves (and sometimes, the angst). I would still enjoy plot-driven stories, but they seem less “real” to me. In real life, our actions have consequences. In a plot-driven story, it seems to me as if I have no choice/freedom in the matter, having to go with the flow (which, in a good story, isn’t really a bad thing), but I like to see how my actions can influence the world around me. I mean, it wouldn’t be a “Choose your own adventure” if you couldn’t choose how you want the story to go, right?

Honestly, both are pretty good, but the scale is still tipped to the character-driven story.

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To harp on one of my favorite books (again sorry) in The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, there is one character that is just… ugh. As a character, shes just awful. Annoying, a bit bland, and just overall a real drag. BUT! Her storyline is absolutely amazing. The quest shes goes in is intriguing and reveals the larger world, the people she meets are fascinating, and her role in the overall plot is huge. It completely saves her character, otherwise I’d just hate her.

With a good plot, I’d argue even the worst characters can be saved.
@LiliArch by worst I mean purposely written to make the reader hate them. morally good, but just annoying, sarcastic, tactless, etc
And she also was one of 3 main characters, so there were enjoyable characters too haha

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I suppose that depends whether you mean ”worst character” as a ”character that is worst as a person” or ”character who is written badly” (I mean, if they’re just… so terribly written you don’t even care, what are your stakes in the story anyway?)

Personal opinion, of course. Also it’s probably worth mentioning that I have no experience with stories that have characters that bad that would still have a well-written story, so this is probably a purely pointless opinion anyway.

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Regardless the driver, a good plot should serve the character.

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What this topic has revealed to me is that I didn’t really understand the difference between plot and character driven stories.

Actually, I still sort of don’t. It’s a very weird delineation that doesn’t really make sense to me.

I guess if we’re considering the extremes here, I would (and ultimately did, despite some waffling) choose a character-driven story over a plot-driven one, insofar as I would, in general, rather have a story with strong/complex characters but a weak/simple plot than one with a strong/complex plot but weak/simple characters.

But really, thinking about it, most of my favorite stories are the ones that marry the two driving forces, such that in a lot of cases, it’s honestly hard for me to consider what it even means to be one or the other. To me the best character development comes as a result of external events, and the best plot developments are a result of deep character motivations. Unless you’re working within a genre that inherently puts most of the emphasis on one of the two (e.g. slice of life, which would of course be character-driven), writing a story that focuses on one at the expense of the other seems almost counterintuitive to me.

Or maybe I just still don’t understand what people mean by these terms? :woman_shrugging:

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I would need some very clear definitions of ‘plot-driven’ and ‘character-driven’ to be provided, before I could answer this.

It seems that half the time when people say they like stories that are character-driven, they actually mean that they want the characters to have proper character arcs and emotional depth.

Personally, after a lot of thinking on the issue, I have reached the conclusion that I prefer the story to be driven by plot (external forces). I have just read way too many character-driven stories, where the only way the author can think of to add tension and conflict, is to have the characters be unable to communicate with each other, for no good, well-established reason. And then rinse and repeat a couple of times. Especially when it comes to romance.

It drives me nuts.

So instead, I prefer the main conflict to be provided by external forces, to I can enjoy my romance and character arcs in peace, without wanting to wring the characters’ necks in frustration.

Sure, give me internal conflict and well-tailored miscommunication that is based in each characters background and psychology. I love that.
But don’t make it the only thing keeping the story together, or use it to stretch the story to thrice the length it should have been.

In clearer words: I prefer my stories to be plot-driven but with a strong focus on characters.

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I think I’m going to join the team that just gonna sit on the fence here since I’m wondering: Shouldn’t a story or a game be both? Or have elements of both, a bit of this and a bit of that to make the whole?

Shrug I would like to see examples of either one to get an idea. Personally, this makes me wonder where my writing stands really. My last story and the one I’m focused on most, have a bit of both? Meaning the main character drives the story forward. But there are also elements that come knocking on the door and the two collides? Wouldn’t that be ‘a bit of both’ ?

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Yeah, actually, could someone provide examples of CoGs and HGs that are character-driven?

I can’t think of any, on the top of my head, but I might just be tired…

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For some reason I remember Brandon Sanderson explaining that very very good but I can’t find where I saw it :man_facepalming:. It could be on one of those 1 hour long videos maybe… :thinking:

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To clarify, a character-driven story would be like the novels “Everything I never told you” or “The Rest of Us Just Live Here,” which have overarching plots (the investigation of Lydia’s death and surviving until graduation, respectively), but the EXTERNAL plot doesn’t drive the story forward. Instead, it’s about the character’s internal lives, motivations, and self-understanding.

A plot driven story can still have good characters, BUT the story is pushed forward by external actions, such as in the “Throne of Glass” series.

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Not a CoG (or necessarily even accurate) example, but I do remember that being a point of discussion with the Final Fantasy games back when they came out, mostly in reference to FFXII being more plot driven - it focused more on the global and political intrigue, the consequences of nations and leaders doing things. And in particular, while most stories have a character with a goal that they’re pursuing and that IS the story, FFXII went more with the idea of putting that personal story in the context of how it would impact the world (mostly how it might negatively impact the world, rather than save it).

That’s a huge oversimplification of an argument that I didn’t have a very personal stake in, so take that with all of the salt. But I think of that when I think of the difference - are we studying a person trying to do a thing, or is it more about the world at large? Is it a story about a ruler learning to be a person, or a person learning to be a ruler? And again, obviously there can be overlap, but the focus can be more on one thing or the other.

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The first example of a character-driven story in my mind is The Wayhaven Chronicles—quite popular, most people around here know of it I think. It has a plot regarding the supernatural, a nice one at that, but undoubtedly the driving force of the series are the characters and their interactions with the Detective, the main character. In fact, I would argue a lot of romances are more “character driven” because of the nature of a romance, a focus on the love story between characters.

Conversely, let’s take one of my all-time-favorites Pendragon Rising, which I would argue is more plot driven than character driven, because the MC (Arta or Arthur) is propelled not necessarily by their relationship with their mother/father or companions, but by the external force of needing to defend Britain from the Saxon Migration—a force that is, while embodied by the antagonists at times, not necessarily explored through them, rather the events that connect the meetings with them throughout the story. Think fantasy questing.

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I just knew someone would bring that one up. Personally I see it as plot-driven.
Yes, there’s strong romance arcs. Yes, that’s where the fanbase’s focus is, and much of the appeal lies. But the story itself is driven by the plot, by all the external things that are happening.

As for pendragon Rising, it has been too many years since I read that one, so I can’t really comment on it.

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I respectfully disagree. The story itself may composed of external things, but the critical plot points and thematic core of the story is about the characters. Most of the plot would be weightless without the character interactions, particularly as you move further through the books and become closer with the Unit.

And, to bring this around to the main point, I would argue it’s hard to write a good story at length without a plot or characters. You obviously need some semblance of a plot to literally move things along if you’re writing a book, and it helps to have at least one character. But I do think there are good examples of stories that focus on one or the other.

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Double Soda Pour | Know Your Meme

Yeah, I really can’t say that the two are mutually exclusive. A bad plot can be saved by interesting characters interacting in it, while a great plot can activate poor characters. But there’s nothing at all that says that characters and plot can’t both be great, like in almost all great novels.

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Yeah, and I’ve been seeing people say this a lot, including OP. I don’t think the idea is that you neglect one for the other, I think that are literally just some stories that work better with a focus on one, if that makes sense. Another good example would be mystery novels and novelettes in general. You can have a compelling “detective” with an interesting backstory and voice, but the story isn’t about them growing as a character typically, it’s about the mysteries they encounter and solve: plot driven.

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