1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    What does character driven mean to you?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Jul 21, 2016.

    I've come across a few literary-journal editors who say they want character-driven fiction. While I have a general idea of what they are saying (strong characters, compelling voice), I'm not 100 percent sure what this means. The stories they choose to publish always seem to have a strong plot to me when I read these journals. So, what makes a story character driven over something else like plot heavy? Help me process the idea of a character-driven story. I know where I want to publish my short fiction. I know some of these editors really dig character-driven stories. This is what I want to be able to deliver.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it generally means the central conflict of the story is either internal or is solved because of some change in the character's way of thinking.

    Would that match the stories you've been reading?
     
  3. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Honestly, that's not really what I'm seeing. What you are saying would make sense, but the plot and conflict aren't really taking a quieter backseat to anything going on with the character development. Maybe this is why I am struggling to know what they really mean.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    In character driven stories, the primary conflict is generally internal, or results from relationships between characters. Along the lines of what @BayView said.

    A story about an alien invasion featuring a guy trying to infiltrate an alien base to blow it up before the launch a dangerous weapon would be more plot driven.

    A story about an alien invasion featuring a guy trying to infiltrate an alien base to blow it up as payback because an alien killed his child, who realizes over the course of the story that the aliens he is targeting are innocent, sentient beings and that blowing them up would be as immoral as the action that killed his child, is more character driven.
     
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  5. billy_pilgrim
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    billy_pilgrim New Member

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    The way I understand the idea is that in 'character driven works' you have the characters' motives and actions lead to a plot event, as opposed to having something happen for its own sake or independently of the characters.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The plot doesn't have to take a back seat for it to answer to what @BayView mentions, and many stories are difficult to pin down as being more plot or character driven. One of the best examples of a character driven story I've read is A Home at the End of the World. Obviously the things that happen (the plot) in the lives of the four main characters around whom the story rotates are what moves the story forward and gives meaning to our engagement of them, but the story is about how they engage life, or in this particular instance, the tragedy of only ever almost engaging life. The things happen to give you contact with the people, not the other way 'round.
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Character driven to me means the idea doesn't overpower the characters. Anne Tyler stories are very character driven. They're not saving the world they're experiencing life's problems.
    And the mc is also central to the mechanics of the plot so much so that if you tried to replace it with any other character it wouldn't work. Ramona wouldn't work without Ramona, the Color Purple wouldn't work without Celie, Harriet the Spy wouldn't work without Harriet, the Thorn Birds wouldn't work without Meggie and Ralph. And so on.
    Other novels are read more for their ideas like say Jurassic Park. Doesn't mean that characters are essential but they're not the driving force.
     
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  8. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    See, I think you could write both example either way. Isn't it all in the delivery? But what do I know? Still struggling to produce the kind of character-driven fiction that magazine editors buy.
     
  9. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Sorry, but I have no idea what you mean.
     
  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think what you first say in this post is interesting. Do you think certain stories lend themselves better to being character driven than others. That's probably what the other poster was getting at. But I don't know. I want my work to be very character driven. I was thinking it was all voice, but do you guys think it is story too?
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that "character driven" is much more about story than voice.
     
  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Can you explain this a little more? I've been looking at it the opposite way.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uh...it's hard to explain without knowing why you see it the other way. :)

    Also, I'm using my definition of "character driven", so I can't offer any assurance that anyone else sees it my way.

    Imagine that an author says, "OK, I want to write a museum-theft caper. I think four or five characters might work well. What's the leader like? Well, he should probably be somebody who knows about museums. And we'll need somebody who understands security systems...."

    I'd call that plot-driven.

    Imagine that an author says, "So, Henry is grieving. His true love is dead, and he blames himself. And as time goes by, Henry starts to believe in magic. He needs to believe in it, because he thinks that magic is the only way that he can get in contact with his dead true love. And he thinks that the ancient Whiffle people had magic, so he wants to get an ancient artifact that was the most beloved object of the Whiffle people. It's in the municipal museum, so he's going to try to steal it. So, he'd want someone that he trusts and most importantly someone that also knew his true love, so to help him he'd ask..."

    I'd call that much more character-driven.

    They might both end up being a pulp museum-theft caper, but I still call the first plot driven and the second character driven.
     
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  14. Pindrop
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    Pindrop Banned

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    I'm going to give my own (probably incorrect) interpretation.

    First of all character driven means you have characters. For an example of something that is plot driven I would mention Micheal Bay, but his films have no plot. It is simply having a rounded character and recognising how they would react in certain situations (i.e. as a writer you live that character). If, for the purposes of plot advancement, they act out-of-character the audience can recognise it a mile off, and they will hate you for it.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You could perhaps structure either example either way, but it's not in the delivery. It's the core of the story, in my view. That's what editors who want character driven stories are looking for.
     
  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know enough about literary fiction to say whether this assessment is right or not, but it makes a lot of sense to me. And you're stating it this way made me realize that my WIP falls neatly into the slot of 'character-driven' story.

    In fact, your post has given me some ideas for changes I need to make in the third act.
     
  17. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I still don't see how it's not all in the delivery. I'm picturing all your story ideas and you could totally choose to go in real deep with the POV and make any of those ideas character driven, no? That's why I think it's got to be in the delivery. I can't think of one situation that couldn't be done as a character-driven piece of work. But maybe I'm struggling with what character driven is supposed to mean. I think it would be interesting to hear your definition.
     
  18. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    What does core of the story mean? Seriously, that just seems a little too abstract when editors or saying they want character-driven work. How can they not be talking about voice and POV?
     
  19. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I'm trying to figure out if my stuff is character driven. I think it is, but then I seem to be thinking anything could be. Maybe I need to figure out how to be more character driven. Can I ask what sort of changes you are making to make your work more character driven?
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well...no. I'd say no.

    A story can be plot driven and still have great, well-drawn characters, and be written from deep within the character point of view. A story can be character driven and still have a great, satisfying, complex plot.

    The voice and delivery for a character driven story can be EXACTLY the same as the voice and delivery for a plot driven story.

    It's not about voice and delivery, it's about what motivates the decisions. If a story is plot driven, and a character just doesn't fit the plot, then the character has to either be changed, or removed. If a story is character driven, and the demands of the plot just don't fit the character, then the plot has to either be changed, or removed.
     
  21. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Sorry, but I am totally confused. I guess I have a hard time separating character from story. I see them as one and not interchangeable parts. When I go to write I create the character and the plot at the same time.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, sorry, it's not voice or POV. Those are unrelated. Not sure how else to explain it apart from what has already been set forth in the thread.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can't have one without the other, but I think that often there's a trend in terms of which one guides the other.
     
  24. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's been a couple of day since I wrote this and, sadly, now I can't remember what I was thinking about when I wrote that. It may be in my notes somewhere, but I likely didn't mark it as "inspired by dead rats"). :)

    If I remember what it was, I'll post.

    EDIT: Rereading the thread, I remembered...

    It was what @Steerpike said about invading the alien base and realizing the aliens weren't such bad guys after all. It's not that I have concrete ideas jotted down as to what changes I'll make, more that I've a niggley idea for a direction to go.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2016
  25. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps the answer to the thread question lies in what Orson Scott Card calls the MICE quotient. Karen Woodward wrote an article about it here.
     

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