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?
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:
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
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:
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE manga series by CLAMP
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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:
- Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
- The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
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!)