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Plot vs. Character: How to Write Plot-Driven vs. Character-Driven Stories

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 13, 2019 • 3 min read

Most types of stories fall somewhere on the continuum of character-driven vs. plot-driven stories. Depending on your writing style, you might gravitate towards one or the other. The beauty of creative writing is that there are many different ways of constructing a good story and exploring as multiple approaches will make you a strong writer.



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What Is a Plot-Driven Story?

A plot-driven story is a type of story that derives most of its action from a well-constructed plot. A good plot-driven story will have compelling and multi-faceted characters but will place plot and story structure ahead of deep character development. Most genre fiction like sci-fi or mystery tends to be plot-driven. Stories like The Lord of The Rings spend a large amount of time on worldbuilding and character but are still primarily driven by complex plots.

4 Tips for Writing a Plot-Driven Story

If you find yourself drawn to plot-driven narratives, it’s important to spend a fair amount of time fleshing out a plot and story outline before you begin the writing process. Here are some tips you might want to consider before you begin writing a plot-driven story:

  1. Focus on external conflict. If you are attempting to write a plot-driven story it’s important to focus on external conflict as opposed to inward conflict as the action that will drive your plot forward. Internal conflict most often takes place within a character and serves character-driven narrative well. External conflict, on the other hand, requires multiple forces and helps to build a driving plot.
  2. Carefully outline plot points. Plot-driven stories require a tight and well-developed story structure and a logical sequence of plot points. Plot is not something you find on the page as you write. It requires a large amount of planning and foresight. You should have a detailed view of your major plotlines and arcs before you begin any plot-driven story.
  3. Develop high concept plots. High concept stories are widely accessible storylines with clear and communicable plots. These sorts of story ideas are often found in screenwriting and film. Screenwriters often use a high concept plot as the driving force in a thriller or other plot-driven film. These premises are a good place to start for a plot-driven story.
  4. Include plot twists. A good plot should subvert audience expectations by including multiple subplots and unexpected storylines. Once you have a cohesive plot drawn out, think about ways that you can surprise your readers and push back against what they expect in a story by introducing a startling plot twist.
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What Is a Character-Driven Story?

Character-driven stories are focused more on character development than they are on plot. Character-driven stories are often found in literary fiction. A good short story is often focused on one or two fleshed-out characters as opposed to a detailed plot. A character-driven plot is the type of story that is driven by emotion as opposed to a high concept plot. Character-driven plots are also often found in books based on real life. If you’re writing about your own story you might want to consider the insights into character that you have, having lived through and reacted to the events you are describing.

4 Tips for Writing a Character-Driven Story

If you find yourself drawn to character-driven stories, think about what qualities draw you to characters in books that you like. In addition to brainstorming compelling character traits, here are some tips that will help you write your character-driven story:

  1. Develop a rich backstory. Good character-driven stories have interesting characters with well-developed backstories. Character development will help engage your reader and make your characters more compelling.
  2. Trace a compelling character arc. Most character-driven stories have plots that correspond fairly directly to a character’s individual arc. You should have a detailed outline and understanding of a character’s arc before you start on your character-driven story.
  3. Focus on inner conflict. Whereas plot-driven narratives often center around external conflict, character-driven stories are able to center in on inner conflict that occurs largely within a character or characters.
  4. Build a point of view. Part of developing a strong and believable character is developing a well-defined point of view. Think about what makes your character tick and how they see the world. A clear point of view is necessary for creating a character that will carry your story and engage your readers.


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