by Fae Rowen
Before we get started, I’d like to announce the winner of a six-pack of my cards. Janel is the lucky commenter. Janel, if you would e-mail Writers in the Storm with your mailing address, I’ll send your cards right away.
And now to today’s topic:
Laura proposed this tag-team duo of blogs (AKA throwdown) with this final challenge: “SO you should work on the one you suck at.” For me, that would be character-driven writing.
Gee, thanks a lot, Laura. I love you, too.
First, I want to proclaim that I am a plot-driven writer. Once I get my plot, I think about my characters in terms of who could survive what I’m going to throw at them and why they can survive. I live in their backstory, flesh it out and revise that backstory until I know enough about the characters to do a first draft.
Did you see those pictures Laura used to show plot-driven movies? Now I know why I like plot-driven stories. Hubba-hubba.
But, what if my characters came to me first? I have to admit, sometimes they do.
But here we go, into the land of character-driven writing. Maybe I’ll suck a little less at it after I study a bit. Besides, it’s always good to have more skills in your toolbox.
First, I need definitions, even though they may be disputed. Here’s what I liked best:
In plot-driven stories, actions propel the story. An event occurs and the character reacts. In character-driven stories there is a character trigger, an event occurs, and the character reacts. (No wonder I write plot-driven…less steps. Ha!)
First, I have to say that I just saw (and enjoyed) the movie, The Help. Though plot, because of the social time and setting, was important, it was definitely a character-driven movie. Now I understand this whole throwdown a little better.
As I explored on the web, I was surprised there was so much furor over the two different types of writing. Who cares what drives your story as long as it’s well written? As Laura wrote in Wednesday’s blog, in a character-driven work:
“Characters are more important than what happens.”
Hopefully, if you’re a character-driven writer, or if (like me) you could use a little help in that arena, the resources below will help you write more compelling stories.
From Fae’s library
It’s important that you know what makes your character tick. And get ticked off. And how they show those emotions. Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon is my gold standard for this.
In character-driven fiction, assuming you have more than one character in your book, you need to know who has the most at stake in the scene. That’s the character whose head you need to be in. Write the scene in their point of view.
Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite sci-fi writers, has a wonderful book on Characters & Viewpoint.
To make sure your characters are not one-dimensional, Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon, is helpful. I also refer to What Would Your Character Do? by Eric and Ann Maisel. The Maisels’ book contains personality quizzes that can be fun for you to take to find out more about your characters and their triggers.
A couple of fun, and also useful, books are Sun Signs for Writers by Bev Walton-Porter and Love Types by Dr. Alexander Avila. The first classifies characters with the familiar Aries, Scorpio zodiac labels–which you don’t have to reveal in your book. The second has a test for you (or your character) to determine your love type. Are you a mystic writer, a general, a wheeler-dealer or another interesting type?
My last two recommendations come from the land of science, where I live. They are a little “drier” but you can mine them for a wealth of writing gold if you’re so inclined. You don’t have to read them at one sitting, after all. A few pages at a time works just fine. When you need to work on a new character, you can read the next chunk. A free download of Please Understand Me, Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates contains a self-test for those of you who like that sort of thing. If you’re a Meyers-Briggs afficionado, you don’t need this book.
The other is Brain Sex, The Real Difference Between Men & Women by Anne Moir and David Jessel. Great title, dry scientific reading, so check out some pages before you buy it. I use it occasionally, but when I need it, it’s worth it.
Finally, I have the Archetype Cards deck made by Caroline Myss. Although I use them in other ways, I shared them with Laura, Jenny and Sharla and they thought they would be a wonderful tool for character development. Lots of fun, too.
For those of you who can’t wait for a book delivery or a trip to the library to try your hand at character-driven writing, here are some web links. I must warn you that I was surprised to find that most sites about characters and writing offered classes or paid lessons. These don’t.
Simple Machines Forum has an essay about the plot vs character “fight” in the fantasy world (where I write) that is fun and enlightening.
Writers Store has an article by Martha Alderson, M.A. that contains a nifty test to see which kind of a writer you are. I must admit I don’t agree with the plot-driven writer as always being an outliner-structured writer, since I don’t write that way. What fun would it be to know everything that’s going to happen in your story before you write it?
At The 15-Minute Movie Method we’re told that memorable movies are character-driven and that plot-driven movies are only temporarily entertaining. (I include this just to show I can be unbiased for two minutes.) But actually, it got me to thinking that although I may write my novel from the plot-driven perspective, my characters are not cardboard, as The 15-Minute author postulates–forgettable, and therefore I must disagree with that idea. Heck, you remember Rambo, right?
Now if you want a serious 6-minute Powerpoint lesson, watch Character-driven vs. Plot-driven Writing by Leigh Barbour for definitions and how both styles are written. She shares that Shakespeare was a plot-driven guy!
This link has some interesting situational exercises to complete for your characters. You can come up with your own ideas (oops, plot-driven sneaks in) after trying these.
Many authors maintain a website that includes a variety of tips for writing. Try visiting your favorite authors’ sites and look for articles, lists or lessons on the craft of writing. Doesn’t it make sense to learn some “how to’s” from someone whose reading you enjoy?
Hopefully as I work on my new novel, I’ll suck a little less and my beloved critique group won’t have to point out that my characters are one-dimensional. Thanks, Laura.
So, what do you think? Is it important to know whether you’re a plot-driven or character-driven writer? Do you have a definite preference for what you read? More importantly, which side wins the throwdown?