Character-driven or plot-driven?
There seem to be two camps of popular thought when it comes to writing fiction: Character-driven or plot-driven. As if they were mutually exclusive, when most well-written work is a deft blend of both. Just different approaches.
Recently, I read a Facebook post by a well-respected writer/teacher questioning the validity of plot at all and the need for those pesky little things called “plot points.” Normally, I wouldn’t care, but there appeared to be many on the thread taking his/her word as gospel. Writers that hadn’t yet realized the importance of learning the rules before you decide to break them.
My work tends to be more character-driven (see my post, “On Creating Characters“), but even the most character-driven story has a plot. Plot is as inherent to story as oxygen is to air. Sure, there are other things in the air, as well, but oxygen is pretty freakin’ major. The story starts – something happens – the story ends. That “something happens” part is plot. Without it, you have no story. You may have something else. Something really cool even, but for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about traditional story-telling.
The writer of the Facebook post complained that he/she felt pressured to include plot points. News flash: Plot points are going to show up as surely as ants to a picnic. It’s a writer’s skill that places them to the story’s best advantage. They are transitions. The spine of your story. The support beams of your house. Can an architect design a house that doesn’t need support beams? Probably. But you can bet that architect mastered the rules of structural support before deciding to break them.
When to Break the Rules
Experienced writers have studied the rules and know how and when to break them so well that they’ve become ingrained. But the newer writers who are hanging onto the Facebook poster’s words, they’re kind of screwed. We walk across a room without giving a second thought to how we’re placing our legs. We just walk. But there was a time when paying attention to how we were placing our legs was paramount because we kept falling on our asses.
Character engages the reader emotionally, but the character still has to actually do something. That’s where plot comes in. Think of plot kind of like gravity. Ignore it and it will knock your whole story on its ass.