Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven Books: How to Write Each

September 9, 20225 min. Read

Plot driven vs character driven book guide from Palmetto Publishing.

What forces drive your story forward from beginning to end? Most narratives fall into two categories: character-driven or plot driven. Character-driven books tend to emphasize the protagonist’s internal growth. By contrast, plot-driven stories progress due to external conflicts and events that happen to the characters.

Both approaches require different book-writing strategies. By choosing the style that best suits your project, you can write an engaging story that will hook readers from the first to the last page. Read on for advice about how to write specific books using a character-driven or plot-driven approach.

What Is a Plot-Driven Book?

Most fiction books have a clear plot, a term that refers to the series of events that the characters experience. Many nonfiction books, such as biographies and true crime stories, also have a narrative plot structure.

In plot-driven books, the external conflicts and events that the characters encounter take center stage. These narratives often appeal to broad audiences because they feature exciting, action-packed storylines.

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Key Traits of a Plot-Driven Book

How can you recognize a plot-driven story? Here are a few common traits shared by these texts:

  • Characters mostly react to events instead of acting of their own volition.
  • Multiple narrators with minimal characterization may take turns recounting events instead of one fully fleshed-out protagonist.
  • The narrative emphasizes the development of the plot over the characters’ internal and interpersonal growth.
  • The story has an obvious cause-and-effect progression: A happens, so the characters do B, which leads to C.
  • There is a clear resolution to key conflicts and plot points at the end of the book.

Of course, plot-driven stories still need to include appealing characters in order to engage readers. However, if the characters spend the majority of the book trying to escape, fix, or otherwise respond to external circumstances, you can feel confident that the narrative is plot-driven.

Many popular fiction books have plot-driven structures. These texts center on characters who react to unusual scenarios, such as an alien invasion, a dragon attack, or a murder. Readers enjoy these stories because they feature a quick succession of events and typically conclude with a definitive resolution.

Famous plot-driven books include:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: In this young-adult dystopian novel, heroine Katniss participates in The Hunger Games, a televised competition that pits teenagers against one another in a fight to the death.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: This bestselling novel centers on a husband who must solve the mystery of his wife’s disappearance.
  • Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne: In each installment of this children’s series, a magical tree house transports two siblings to a new historical era or event. The protagonists must solve problems in every volume, but they display little personal growth across the series.

Tips for Writing a Plot-Driven Book

If you want to tell an action-packed story that centers on dramatic events, you should take a plot-driven approach. Start with these strategies:

  • Be sure to include dynamic characters who react to the plot in interesting ways.
  • Create a thorough outline or timeline at the beginning of the writing process.
  • Emphasize causality so that the reader understands why events occur.
  • Include plot twists to maintain the audience’s interest.

If you need help structuring your plot-driven narrative, you can turn to Palmetto Publishing for developmental editing help. Our skilled editors can help you create a coherent and meaningful plot that resonates with readers.

Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven Books: How to Write Each

What Is a Character-Driven Book?

Character-driven books prioritize the protagonists’ inner thoughts, personal growth, and relationships. They feature richly developed characters that the reader gets to know on a deep level.

Key Traits of a Character-Driven Book

What does a character-driven book look like? Most narratives that use this strategy have a few traits in common:

  • All of the plot events contribute to the protagonist’s emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual development.
  • The book emphasizes the character’s internal conflict— such as feelings of guilt or trauma — over external, plot-driven conflicts.
  • The narrative features round characters who have complex morals, relationships, and thoughts.
  • The narrator has a strong, unique voice that allows the reader to connect closely with them.
  • The protagonist has a detailed backstory that explains their present-day motives.
  • The story may conclude without a firm resolution to the plot events, but the protagonist has usually experienced a personal transformation by the end of the story.

Character-driven books typically feature more internal conflicts and introspection than plot-driven books because they prioritize personal growth over external actions.

Character-driven books tend to be more literary and slower-paced than plot-driven books.

Popular stories in this category include:

  • The Bell Jarby Sylvia Plath: This coming-of-age narrative focuses on a young woman grappling with depression and other challenges.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This novel explores the complicated relationship between a mother and her troubled daughter.
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: In this narrative, a family copes with a child’s gender transition.

Tips for Writing a Character-Driven Book

If you want to focus closely on your protagonists’ internal journey, there are a few easy strategies that you can use to create an excellent character-driven book:

  • Create thorough backstories for your main characters. How do their pasts relate to their fears, goals, and motives?
  • Emphasize your characters’ agency as they solve external and internal conflicts.
  • Give your protagonist a distinctive voice that will make a strong impression on the reader.
  • Link each plot event to your protagonist’s transformation.

Palmetto Publishing’s developmental editing services can provide thorough feedback on how readers would perceive your characters and suggest ways to improve your story.

Publishing Your Plot-Driven And Character-Driven Books

Choosing between a plot-driven and character-driven structure is a small but important part of the writing process. After you make this decision, you’ll still need to write, edit, and publish your book.

Fortunately, Palmetto Publishing can provide a helping hand with the final stages of revising and publishing your book. As a top-tier publishing company, we can support you with everything from the cover design to formatting to marketing. Contact us today to learn about how our professional publishing services can help get your book out into the world and give you more time to spend doing what you love: writing.

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