Character-driven vs. story-driven

Dragon Age Origins was a good combination of plot driven and character driven arcs.

The main quest line is plot driven. Stop the Blight, kill the Archdemon. The most basic plot line you can probably imagine.

Obtaining the dwarves, elves/werewolves, and mages/templars as your allies would be considered character driven arcs but they’re still underneath the wider and more basic plot narrative.

Both work to compliment each other quite well IMO.


I think the stronger character driven part of DA:O is your personal party that you “collect” throughout the story, but I agree with your points for sure. I also am a big Dragon Age fan soooo… you struck my weakness


I believe Fallen Hero is a character-driven CoG? or Wayhaven Chronicles? Many games including romance are pretty character-driven :stuck_out_tongue:

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That’s a pretty black-and-white poll, no middle option?

The plot-driven vs. character-driven debate reminds me of the low-fantasy vs. high-fantasy debate; everyone has a different idea of what it means and classifying by it is often not all that useful.


Plot-driven stories generally

  • Focus on external conflicts (defeat the monster, solve the mystery, romance the guy)
  • Have most plot points generated by external action (the story starts when the villain kidnaps the hero)
  • Have well-planned, conventionally organized plotlines (event A leads to event B which leads to event C)
  • Are genre-fiction (fantasy, romance, mystery, sci-fi, horror, etc.)

Character-driven stories generally

  • Focus on internal conflicts (will the protagonist overcome their insecurities around being a burden to society?)
  • Have most plot points generated by internal action (the professor has a mid-life crisis and decides to have an affair)
  • Often trace the internal growth of a single character, typically the protagonist (e.g., Hamlet)
  • Often have non-conventional plot structure (might not follow the typical beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, ending structure)
  • Are literary fiction, slice-of-life, plot-light short stories, biographies

However, I find the results of the poll weird because as far as I can tell, plot-driven stories are vastly more common and popular here than character-driven ones. (The blank-slate protagonists that are preferred here almost necessitate the action being driven by external versus internal conflict.)

Outside of Fallen Hero (which I think could make a case for being character-driven), are there any extremely popular character-driven games? The Grim and I? Creatures Such As We?

Sure, character-focused games (romance games, basically) are popular, but how many of them are actually character-driven? Complex, in-depth characters != character-driven.

I’m curious which plot points you’re referring to? Most of the important plot points I remember were instigated by Murphey.

Ultimately, I don’t think plot-driven/character-driven is a super useful classification system as most stories are both. But I’m voting for plot-driven, since nearly all my favorite CSGs are plot-driven.


I believe the poll is overwhelmingly winning on “character driven” because none of us seem to really have an idea what either of the options represent. (Me, mostly me.)

You seem to have a good grasp on the definition, though. As for me, I voted on “do I prefer a focus on intriguing, deep characters or a gripping, surprising plot?” And I’ll take characters any day. If you think about it, most plots aren’t original, which makes sense because it’s hard to be original after a couple millennia. And that applies to characters as well, but still, I’ll enjoy a variation on my favorite character types every day over a variation on a story.

But looking at your post - which seems intriguing and sensible! - my longing for complex characters can fit into either faction.

And I like that you’re taking a stand on plot-driven stories, because honestly, that might be the right answer for me as well, when I think about it.


Again, while the literal moments of action were instigated by antagonists, I sincerely believe these moments would not have had the weight that they did without the presence of the romance/friendship. For example in the first book, towards the end, the climax is focused on the romance option reacting to the possibility of losing the MC because of Murphy’s actions. So in this case, while Murphy is the actor that creates the conflict, the story is focused on and driven by the relationship between the MC and the Unit member they are closest with; that is the the core of the story and therefore I have defined it as the driving force. Another example in the series would be in Book Two when the MC must choose between saving an innocent party or their RO. The hostage situation is technically the plot point, and the outcome will affect the world at large, but the focus is undoubtedly on how it will permanently alter the relationship between the MC and the RO: again, character driven.


Honestly, this is a cop out answer but it truly depends. If the story is a large, epic Game of Thrones save the world type tale for instance, then of course I’m all for plot-driven. But if your story is a slice of life, please don’t have characters that in no way impact their surroundings (extreme example of plot-centric, but still). That said, I picked character driven because I must choose one and ideally, even in plots where the characters have less control, they’ll still be integral to their own stories. If you could swap the characters and it would be the exact same, it’s not something I’d call worth reading for the most part.


I’ll be honest… I haven’t a clue what the difference is between the two. Which is probably why I haven’t bothered trying to say my WIP is one or the other or a combination of the two. Anytime I see “[WIP title] is a character driven story about…”, I’m clueless. Sooooooo probably both because I’m just here to have fun and deny reality one way or another :joy:


From a reader and writer stand point, character driven. Can’t even really think of a story I’ve written in which the protagonist wasn’t at least driving the story as much as the plot. (And in most cases, more)

I was considering making an “other” option, but really, it’s one or the other, you know? A character-driven story focuses on “how” or “why” a character arrived at a choice, while a plot-driven story is those choices. I’d argue that the “use” for this classification is that some people really hate character-driven stories because they tend to be very slow-paced.

I think you’re right about this. “Fallen Hero” and “The Grim and I” are the closest to character-driven I’ve seen on COG–I realized very quickly once I asked the question that while I could think of tons of character-driven novels I’ve loved, I couldn’t think of any COGs/HGs.

I didn’t realize this topic was going to cause such confusion :sweat: I mostly wanted to see if other people liked character-driven stories and wanted to talk about them because my roommates hate them.

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Tim from HFM mentioned in one of his video essays that people consumes stories because of the character. Even for Avatar: TLA, which is basically a plot-driven story, the structure itself lends to the well development of the characters. Thus, a good plot points must serve the characters.

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While this is a definition that will vary depending on who makes it, I certainly see Fallen Hero as character-driven, even if there are lots of plots and mysteries there.

If we stick to Interactive fiction, for me it is a rather clear definition:

  • In a character focused story, the majority of the choices you make will focus on how your character reacts to things, especially to other people.

  • In a plot focused story, the choices will be mostly about how you go about uncovering the plot/plan your tactics/handles your resources.

For example, if you solve a mystery by picking how you generally are going to solve it but no details, that’s less plot-oriented than if solving the mystery means proper paths with many choices and stat checks. Or, on the other hand, if an argument with a character is solved in one choice of angry/forgive it’s less character-oriented than if it is a many choices long scene where you can go into detail about how to handle things.

I would make a case for A Study in Steampunk also being character-oriented, despite the mysteries and plots, the main driving trajectory is how the main character feels about things, to the point of separating into very different paths towards the end all dependent on that instead of clues and plots.

While I love plots, systems and mysteries (and making them), and think that any good story of course includes both, I prefer the character driven stuff, at least if it’s good. It is also a lot more fun writing (says the one who spent half a chapter on a therapy session).


I think we are all actually agreeing, and it’s just a matter of how we use the terms.

Yes, all the stories mentioned are focused on characters. I definitely agree on that, and I also agree that I prefer character focus to plot focus.

But, for me at least, character-focused is not the same as character-driven.

For me, Wayhaven and Study in Steampunk are both character-focused but plot-driven, while Fallen hero is character-focused with a mixed drive, leaning towards character-drive but with enough plot-drive to keep to keep it mixed and interesting.

It seems from this discussion that most peoples’ way of thinking about and understanding this whole thing doesn’t split the concepts the way mine does, and as far as I can see the common definition leans more towards what I call focus.
In which case, as I said above, I agree with you, and I definitely understand why the poll skews the way it does.

I might suggest that the title and poll is changed from ‘driven’ to ‘focused’ just to reduce confusion.


I personally like a mixture of both . Not focusing too much on one and instead having both of them in a story .

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I really like the format Wayhaven Chronicles uses, the story itself doesn’t really have different endings compared to other books (what I mean is, it can end in different ways, but it’s not really a different ending, for example,you can’t die. yet at least.) but I don’t really know whether I’d call it a character driven or plot driven game… I believe a both types work, and a mixture of the two works very well aswell!

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I am always the story person. A good plot with interesting story telling is what made me hyped for wips. But an IF should include both aspects. Affairs of the Court, Zombie Exodus and War for the West are mainly plot focused and quite lacking in character exploration but still great stories nevertheless. Study in Steampunk and Heroes Rise Trilogy are some prominent examples that are well written in both aspects.


Why not do both, character driven and story driven?


You can have both a well-written plot and enjoyable characters, but only one of them DRIVES the story forward. A mystery, for example, is plot-driven. That’s why you can have a million stories about Sherlock Holmes solving mysteries—he never changes. Same thing with many sitcoms—the characters don’t change, so the plot drives the story.

You cannot have both. There are distinct differences between the two. I hope that makes sense?

I’m sure being plot-driven doesn’t equal to static characters. There’re many examples too, even the famous ones, such as Fellowship of the Ring (a.k.a. LOTR) which is apparent between Frodo and Bilbo, Avatar: TLA with Sokka and Zuko, and even Spiderman or any superhero in general.

Being plot-driven simply means that there’s a certain circumstance/predicament that pushes the character (and the story) to move forward. If there’s no relic to hunt, Jones or Drake would simply sit on their couches watching TV (or whatever form of entertainment exists at the time). If there’s no evil dark lord ring, the hobbits would happily stay in their Teletubbies homeland the Shire. And so and so. As I mentioned again, I’m in line with the notion “good plot should serve the characters” (even though Holmes don’t really get char development, I think people love reading him because he’s just a genius badass detective).


For novels, I usually prefer character-driven stories, but I cut fantasy and sci-fi some slack on this. For Choice of Games, I’m also struggling to think of any that are character-driven :thinking: Usually the character is a blank-slate for the player to fill in: that’s a trope and precedent of the genre. Not that a player’s choices don’t matter or affect the story, but stuff will continue on with or without player input. Ex: in Jolly Good, the PC’s aunt and Parsnip enjoy the opera regardless; the Noble Gases compete with the other clubs whether the PC wants them to or not; the newspaper will print their story with or without interference.