Are your Stories Plot or Character Driven?

Plot and character in Gladiator

Plot and Character: Russel Crow as Maximus in Gladiator

Students of writing often ask how character relates to plot. Which is more important, or at least, where should the emphasis fall?

Some argue that genre is the lens that focuses the writer’s attention on one or the other. A whodunit, they suggest, is more plot-driven than a European art film that concentrates more on character.

But need this be absolutely the case? Would concentrating on both not serve to enrich any story, regardless of its genre? Especially because plot and character are so deeply interwoven, that you can’t invoke one without invoking the other?

How character affects plot

The following analogy is helpful: Plot is to character as a beam of light is to a prism passing through it. The prism refracts the flow of the plot.

Slap a Nazi officer on the cheek and you’re likely to get shot. Slap one of the twelve disciples instead, and he may well offer you the other cheek. Both reactions, which might be pivotal turns in the story, are influenced by the personality, beliefs, and ideology of the characters involved.

In the film Gladiator, for example, can you imagine Maximus failing to fight back against the Emperor who has poisoned him, then stabbed him with his sword in one-to-one combat in the arena?

Much more fitting is that Maximus pull the Emperor’s sword from his belly with his bare hands and use it to stab the Emperor to death with it.

This action is only possible because of who Maximus is, a man of immense will and strength who is determined to revenge the death of his family and save Rome from being ruled by a madman. His action is in keeping with his character.

And so it should be with any character whatever the magnitude of his actions, since, in terms of narrative construction, actions are nothing more than responses to challenges and opportunities presented to the characters of a story.

Summary

The plot of a story is directed through the prism of character.

4 thoughts on “Are your Stories Plot or Character Driven?

  1. Musarrat Zaidi

    In fact the most point is the topic that an author decides to tackle, the topic is the key to open the series of events, characters, dialogues, suspense, and ultimately a very eye catching and heart winning plot and keep the reader busy until he or she completes reading the whole hot stuff, the book, novel, an autobiography, an essay, poetry or an article what ever it is. Now a days craze about fiction based on heroic, amazing, astonishing stories consisting of action, thrill and horror is on the rise. Novels and movies that are action, thrill, suspense and horror driven are most popular in adults and kids. For generations TARZEN had been the most favorite character among the kid due to the topic, BRAVERY. Sind Bad The Sailor can also be included in this category. Remember Dracula, it was the most popular character of his time due to the topic HORROR. Treasure Island , was sold like hot cakes, Why, because of the topic that contained a lot of adventure, risks, traveling in unknown hard to live places. So the conclusion is that an interesting, different and suspense full topic creates important
    plots, dialogues and characters. Stories, movies like Romeo and Juliet also cause Block Buster movies
    and window breaking rush due to the subject matter or the topic touched.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      I hear you, Mussarat, but topic alone does not provide us with enough information of how to render the story. For that we need to know more, such as genre, for example. It’s how the topic is treated that does the trick. With regard to the article, the conclusion I have drawn is that both plot and character are equally important.

      Reply
  2. Gerhard Pistorius

    Interesting post. One of the early exercises that occurs in a screen writing class is the practice of writing fictional episodes for existing films or series. On one occasion we were asked to write our own Simpsons episode. There is a reason why this series has been going for over 600 episodes. It’s the product of writers who understand their characters trades and flaws.

    In the wolf of Wall street Donnie Azoff, is a character who is unapologetic , hedonistic and also noticeably cruel, arrogant and less remorseful about his illegal activities. Making his downfall all the more satisfying in the end of the film.
    In short : You want to write for character – figure out their trades and flaws.

    Reply

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