Character vs Plot

I've always been a little puzzled when creative writing books or tutors have raised the issue of 'character versus plot'. Is your novel character-led or plot-led?

I've found an explanation of the difference on the Hear Write Now site.

"With character-driven stories, the problem is usually caused by a weakness in the main character that has to be overcome before he can resolve the problem that makes up the story. The pivotal point is when the character understands this and takes the first steps to right his weakness.

"A plot-driven story begins with a problem that is external - in a thriller, this might  be a terrorist attack, in a fantasy it might be an unwelcome summons by the king. The characterisation influences the plot by the reaction of the main character to the problem. At the pivotal point, the character finds the tools, internally or externally, to solve the situation."

This appears to be a very straightforward, reasonable explanation and yet...

Here's my problem. I like to write about flawed characters. I am, myself, a flawed character. I know my weaknesses, my dark side. Those flaws make me the person I am. I'm a bit of a snob (that's my mother in me) but also willing to give people the benefit of the doubt mostly (my father's addition to my gene pool). I sometimes shout at my children but I would also happily die for them. I'm a human being like the majority of the readers of this blog (well, you never know...). Flaws are what make us interesting in life and characters fascinating on the page.

The main character in my novel, Stephen Haven is a disappointed, stubborn man who would rather interact with his computer than a living, breathing person. He thinks that he doesn't like people. He's sure that they don't like him. His habit of cutting himself off from the world creates the perfect opportunity for our villain to steal his identity.

In everything I write, my flawed characters bring down problems on themselves by their own actions but they are also thrown into situations that are at least initially out of their control. Am I therefore writing from a character-led point of view or plot-led? Surely character informs plot and the vice versa applies too.

Maybe I'm missing something here. Perhaps I should return to my shelf of creative writing books. Am I alone in being confused by this? Am I the only person who has difficulty with this concept? Am I?


  1. I think stories should blend the two and that's what it sounds like you're doing. I wouldn't panic at all. I think it's a good thing.

  2. I agree with Kelly. I've always though that for a good story the rule is to make the reader like the character then make the character get in trouble and then get them out of trouble. I think that's it in a nutshell. Is that character driven or plot driven? I think it's both.

  3. Sounds like you are writing something with depth, which is always good. :)

  4. Sounds like you're on the right track. If you're at peace with what you're writing ...well, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

  5. It sounds like the characters are the predominant aspect of you stories (which I applauded because there is nothing better than when a character follows a person through all their days), but it also sounds like your letting your left brain think too hard about it ( maybe). I say write until you get to the end. If you've devoured all those craft books you'll know that if the characters have made some sort of transformation by the end of the story, they will have had to go through 'things'… and there you have it, a story. I think it works like that..

  6. Yes! Shelf the books and just write, whatever comes out will come out. Then get the books out for editing.

    I can never be sure of the difference between the two, not when writing or reading. I just try to enjoy the both.


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