Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Three Types of Stories

They say there are two types of stories: character-driven and plot-driven. But, being a fan of fantasy and science fiction, I suggest that there is a third--world-driven.

While every novel should be some combination of the three, most writers tend to favor one over the other two. I've stated my preference before; I love books that are primarily about the characters. But what kind of story do you favor? Where should you begin when you write? Do you draw up a character, a world to populate, or a fantastic adventure?

Character-Driven Stories

My ideas generally spawn from ideas for characters, and ways to make them interact. My first novel, Tsirash, relies heavily on the relationship between Octras and Tsira. They are foils for each other, "mirror characters" who handle similar circumstances in different ways--and different circumstances in similar ways. While the plot and world are interesting, the focus is on the characters.

If the story consists mostly of internal conflict or dealing with relationships (and I mean all relationships, not just romantic ones), you are probably reading/writing a character-driven story.

Examples of character-driven stories:

Plot-Driven Stories

My little sister and I once worked together on a story called "TimiThy" (although we later decided it was a stupid name). The story had a specific goal: kill the villain, Mr. G.(Gladiator), and restore the kingdom of the Fairies. While we had some fun characters, Timi and her friends were really just along for the ride, doing what was necessary for the plot to advance. 

Whatever the goal may be (getting the Holy Grail, rescuing the princess, or achieving enlightenment), if it takes center stage, it's a plot-driven story.

Examples of plot-driven stories:

World-Driven Stories
Dave, a friend from one of my writing groups, cannot say that he has people living in his head the way I do, nor can much of his writing fall under the plot-driven story. You see, Dave's specialty is world-building. His science fiction creations often revolve around ideas of virtual space, countries where video games affect the real world, and theories of quantum mechanics. And that's perfectly fine--in fact, it has worked for many, many authors. There are lots of readers who love nothing more than delving into another world for the possibilities it presents.

Science fiction, and its sister, fantasy, are the rulers of the world-driven story. I listed Lord of the Rings as plot, but it could just as easily fit here. J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of world-building and languages; writers and game creators almost always draw from the mythology he created for their fantasy. Even I am using the race "Elf" in my book (although the similarities between my Elves and his are few).

When the mechanics of the world are explained in great detail, even to the point of halting the plot, the story is a world-driven one.

Examples of world-driven stories:

What kind of story do you like the most, or the least? (Any other thoughts about these three types of stories are always welcome. I love hearing from you!)



  1. Interesting, I've never thought about world-driven stories before. But I suppose it makes sense - one of my favourite things about fantasy is worldbuilding, and a unique and interesting world backing the story makes it far more exciting.

    That one to think about!

  2. I really like seeing how characters react to each other and change over the course of a story, but I also really like a gripping, exciting plot. I think most of my stories that I write are more plot driven, because, without a plot, it seems pointless to write a story. But I have started writing a story that is more about the characters than the plot.

    It seems to me that the best story would be one that could equally balance the plot and the characters. It would have a fun, engaging plot while at the same time, have characters that learn and grow and are different by the end of the story. I think that's the challenge of writing a good story.

  3. @Nick: I know, right? I've spent so much time observing speculative fiction and have complained a few times about circumlocution in the longer stories, but I realized that sometimes what was really happening was a pause in the plot to make the reader understand the world better.

    @Valerie: I agree with you. Like I said, all good stories contain some measure of the three types, but with one on top. When the three types are used correctly, they should be tightly woven together so that you can't pull one out without damaging the story.

  4. Great post, Rachel. Count me as a character/plot driven writer. The world-driven side of me will just have to wait. :)

  5. I love reading all three of these types of stories. I agree that every story should have strong elements of all three, but most have a specific one that stands out. I tend to prefer writing with character on top, but I do extensive research and world-building, and I love me a good twisty-turny plot.