An ongoing debate exists on which is most important in a story, plot vs character. Every story has a driving force that moves the story along. It is argued that adventure stories are driven by the plot. While others, including romance stories are based more on the character. The differences are explained well in this article by Dorrance Publishing. However, I feel that both plot and character should drive the story and should be closely intertwined.
Driving Elements of Story
Progression in a story is how you get from the beginning to the middle and then to the end. The aspect of the story that pushes the story forward, causing one thing to lead to the next is the driving element. Both plot and character used to drive the story has their own strengths.
When the progression comes because of events that occur and force the characters to continue in the story, it is driven by plot. Characters react to what happens and continue through the course of the story till they get to the end. This keeps the story exciting, with one new complication after another. An example of plot driving the story is a fire forcing a character out of their home.
A character driven story is when the progression of the story is brought on by the choices of the character. This builds strong characters that take the responsibility of their events. According to the characteristics of a character, this may allow the story and events to be hilarious, serious, romantic, or any other form of entertainment. With the example of the fire, in a character driven story, the character may have started the fire themselves because they found a family of mice living under the cabinet.
Every story needs events to take place. When the events are external, and out of the character’s control, they offer significant pushing power. These will bring a character to an entirely new level of situation that they did not choose. With the external tension, characters are able to make more significant growth.
In The Hobbit, if an uninvited dinner party of dwarves had not shown up in Bilbo’s home, he never would have embarked on a journey outside of the shire. An event outside of Bilbo’s control occurred in his home, which forced him to make a choice. This external event however, happened to come from the decision of another character.
Characters Driving Plot Progression
The intentional decisions of characters cause events that will influence other characters as well as the plot of the story. But how a character chooses to respond is the character driving the story forward. As characters choose to alter the course of the story, they are becoming stronger characters and making the story that much more interesting.
Plot vs Character shouldn’t be an either or in driving a story, but the conflict of a story that drives the progression. Rather than a question of what should drive the story, the two aspects of story should be used together and the conflict will drive the story.