No, I’m not making a judgement call here. I simply wanted to talk about the differences.
It’s something that I think writers debate more than readers. But then writers are a touch more obsessive about stories than readers. If you can imagine.
And don’t worry if you are confused. Lots of writers are too. It can be tricky and there is gray area here. But in general, if the main point of the story is the character’s growth, it’s a character driven story. This growth will, usually, be alluded to in the final conflict, in some way. If not, it’s plot driven.
Let me give examples.
Buffy vs the Master – Character Driven.
Throughout Season One of Buffy the main conflict is “Buffy overcoming her fate”. She’s the Slayer, the chosen one. Destined to be alone and die. She spends the season making friends (not being alone) and kicking ass with them (staying alive). The final episode has a Prophecy that says the Master will kill her. And she has a complete meltdown.
She goes to fight the Master anyway and dies. But is revived by her friends, and kicks much ass.
This conflict is metaphor for the overall story being told. It’s personal for this character.
The da Vinci Code – Plot Driven.
Langdon has no personal growth. The conflict of the story is to unravel the code. We go from puzzle to puzzle. That isn’t to say the story isn’t emotional. The Betrayal of the mentor character is actually a betrayal.
But this betrayal isn’t reflected in the final battle in any way, nor does it change Langdon (or Sophie). They solve the last puzzle by their wits, but there is no metaphor for their growth as characters, as they have none.
A little bit between – Thor.
Thor’s character growth is the ‘main’ story, yet his final battle against Loki is not affected by his character growth nor does it reflect the larger story. There’s no reenforcement of Thor’s story in this battle. Nothing Thor did or learned on Earth comes into play while fighting Loki. Nor is fighting Loki a necessary part of Thor’s growth as a character.
So, that’s the difference between (and blending of) character and plot driven stories. Again, neither is superior, and I say that as someone who mostly writes character driven stories. Still, it’s good to know the difference, especially if you’re a writer.
Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of Pennsylvania. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids and cats as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. She has a newsletter now, too!