Sometimes writers will argue what’s more important, the characters or the plot? The truth is there needs to be a balance between the two. Plot driven stories on their own are flat and have no depth, while character driven stories on their own can often wander with little direction or with nothing really happening, making them a bit tedious and boring. A quality story will typically have both an action driven plot and a character driven plot, with each feeding off each other.
The action driven plot is sometimes known as the external or surface plot. The character driven plot is often referred to as the internal plot. It deals with the characters’ emotions, relationships, internal struggles, the inner workings of their minds, and motivations.
For example, in the Harry Potter books the external plot usually involves Harry trying to beat Voldemort, while the internal plots deal with Harry trying to understand who he really is as he tries to learn about his parents and the strange connection he shares with Voldemort. The fact that the external and internal plots often intertwine and at times are at odds with each other makes the story that more compelling.
Best-selling author, David Farland once said, “A well plotted novel is really a dance between character and event.” So, how do you choreograph this dance? As you write, you ask questions like the following. Why do the characters care about what’s going on around them? How do the actions of the plot affect the character? What are the characters motivations to act? How do the characters act and respond to the events of the plot?
The important thing to remember is that for your novel to have the ideal depth and staying power, you need a rich set of intriguing characters that have to deal with an array of internal struggles while fighting to come out on top of the more obvious physical battles that surround them.
If you ever have a chance to attend one of David Farland’s writing workshops, do it. In addition to being a great author, David is a great writing mentor and teacher as well. He truly knows his stuff. You can find out about his workshops at www.davidfarland.net/writingworkshops.