“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” – Ray Bradbury
This quote reminds me of the importance of character development in a story. If there’s anything I’ve learned about writing stories over the years, it’s that it’s helpful to know your characters intimately.
You must know their motivations, their history, their fears, their passions, etc. Some of these aspects of the character may not even be relevant to the story or that important BUT knowing them doesn’t hurt either. It just adds to your understanding of your character.
Some writers may have a different opinion on the importance of characters versus plot. This is where I hear about the comparison of the character-driven story versus the plot-driven story. Writers like Stephen King and Richard Rhodes both lean towards the importance of character development. King says in On Writing that his characters drive and affect the plot while Rhodes says in his book, How to Write that you have to know your characters deeply.
I like to develop and flesh out my characters as well. I may not have my plot clearly outlined but I have confidence if I know my characters and how they’re going to shape the story. Maybe this is why some people are pantsers and others are plotters: some people may prefer to focus more on general ideas, characters and concepts with minimal planning while others like to outline their plot, characters and research, taking care to look at every detail so they have a roadmap for their story.
I suppose it also might depend on the genre you’re writing in. If it’s contemporary, Young Adult or romance, it would make sense to focus heavily on characters. If it’s fantasy, thriller, mystery or science-fiction, a plot-driven story might be the best bet. Personally, I always appreciate a well-rounded character, no matter the story.
This helps me remind not to worry too much about plot because I find that gets altered as I go along. I guess I prefer a story more centred around the character and their internal conflict/struggle. Most of my stories take this bent and for a YA novel told from a first person, present tense point-of-view, a character-driven story will probably be the best option.
What is your opinion on character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories? What style do you prefer?