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Aren’t My Characters Important?

Simple answer is yes. Last week, plot-driven argument received a point in the great debate. But now let’s talk about character-driven stories.

I received a couple of comments regarding my statement that the Harry Potter books are plot driven. Granted, Harry Potter is the main character and he is the one who has to forge on and see the conflict through, however, ask anyone what Harry Potter is about? Usually the answer is it is a story about good vs evil. Plot driven.

Now take The Wizard of Oz. Character driven story. Ask someone what it is about and usually the answer will be it is about a girl who lands in a mystical world and she has to find her way back home. We follow Dorothy Gale from Kansas on her adventure to Oz.

Back to Harry Potter for a moment. Take him out of the picture and there is still conflict between good and bad wizards. Take Dorothy out of the picture and the plot just sits there waiting for something to happen. Make sense?

My book Eliza Jane is character driven. Besides the fact it is written in first person, take her out and there is no conflict because Eliza wouldn’t be in the middle of it. The story would not survive without her, in fact there would be no story. These are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Would my story survive without my main character?

  • Can my plot move forward without my main character?

  • Is there a story without my main character?

Character driven stories can be difficult to navigate as there is a constant need for that character to do something and be perpetually moving for the story to make sense and for the plot to come together.

To write a character driven story, you need to get a backstory on your character. This backstory does not necessarily have to be in your story, but it will enrich your character. Have coffee with your character (although I wouldn’t suggest you go to Starbucks and do this) and learn about him or her. Learn the little details that make your character who they are. What are their likes and dislikes? What would they have on their nightstand (establishes what is important to them)? Do they eat breakfast (establishes mood)? The more you know your character, the more you learn why they do what they do.

Some notable books that are character driven:

  • The Bell Jar by Slyvia Plath. (A very good read)

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

So, score one for character driven.

Next week: The final debate

Until next time…

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