Is your story driven by its plot or by the characters? Does this make a difference? To some, perhaps not. However, some readers prefer one over the other.
What's the difference? It comes down to character development more than anything. Take Battlestar Galactica for example since it's been told both ways. Classic Battlestar was plot driven. Each episode had its own self-contained plot with the search for Earth tying it together, and there wasn't a lot of character development. The characters were there more or less to serve the plot. The 2003 remake was more character driven. Oh, it had plots and subplots to spare, but the plots served more as vehicles for driving character development than the other way around. You have those who love the classic and hate the reboot, and there are plenty of folks who feel the opposite. Those who enjoy both seem fewer in number.
What does this mean for writers?
Well, while there are no absolutes, looking at the trends of which readers prefer which story driver can help you taylor your story more to its target audience. There are exceptions to every rule, but female audiences tend to prefer more character driven stories while male audiences prefer plot driven. Just think about the movies termed "chick flicks" and the stereotypical action movies. What drives those stories?
Does this mean women never like action movies, and men don't care about character development? No! What it can do is give you a bit of insight into what areas you need to focus on based upon the audience you have in mind for your story. If you have men in mind, make sure your plot is the main focus, it moves right along, and there aren't any plot holes. If you're writing for women, make sure you characters are complex and really put them through the wringer. However, no matter which audience you're writing for, you still have to make sure there's a strong plot, fill in any plot holes, and make sure there are good characters who go through at least some character development.
Why should I care?
Think back to the last time you tried to read a book or watch a movie or television series and just couldn't get into it. Why was that?
Personally, if I'm ten or fifteen minutes into a film or a couple chapters into a book and couldn't give a care about what happens to the characters, I turn it off or put it up. It could have the most amazing plot ever, but if the characters are flat or just jerks, I can't bring myself to care.
On the other hand, I know a few folks who love certain movies or books because of the plot, but they couldn't tell you the names of the characters a day or two later. To them, the struggle is what matters, not who is going through it or what it does to them. Those folks tend to get bored with a story unless the plot is set up and gets going in those crucial first minutes or chapters. To them, it doesn't matter how interesting the characters are if the plot isn't moving from the start.
And, despite what you may be thinking, the main one I'm talking about is a woman. As I mentioned before, broad generalizations are based on trends, not absolutes. They shouldn't dictate the kind of story you tell, but they can be useful things to keep in mind when considering your audience during each stage of the writing process.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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