character-based vs. plot-based novels

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Which would you prefer to write? A novel about a war that encompasses generations and various mythical countries or a novel about how one protagonist must cope within the war torn world?

This is highly subjective and depends a great deal on what kind of novel you like to read. Personally, I’m greedy and love a good novel that combines the best of both worlds – great characters and an interesting plot.

However, when pressed to choose, it’s always about the characters. I will suffer through the most mundane, clichéd plots if I can connect with the novel’s protagonist. I want the protagonist and his/her struggles to seem real. Now I know I’m in even murkier waters with a subjective definition of what it means to convey a believable protagonist.

In order for a fictional character (fantasy or otherwise) to seem real to me, I don’t look so much at what the protagonist does as why he/she acts. What is the character’s real motivation for taking on a quest? Are they forced into their decision or do they undergo their various trials out of a choice? Once I understand the why of a protagonist’s thought process, I can lock into that character’s story.

A lot of people I know also like to read plot-based novels and stories with many characters. These novels tend to cover the lives of many different characters without locking on any single protagonist.

Which do you prefer to write and why? I’m especially interested in hearing from folks who read and write more plot orientated novels. What is it that makes writing and reading plot-based novels appealing to you?


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9 Responses to character-based vs. plot-based novels

  1. pseudosu says:

    I agree the character/s have to hook me. I have to care what happens to them, but that said I’m learning that no matter how good your voice is or engaging the characters are, the industry demands a cohesive plot– esp if you’re a debut author.

    Right now I’m looking at the structure of my stories and trying to get them lean and mean. My characters and voice will be just as appealing within a good framework– I hope!

    • Teresa says:

      Hello Pseudosu! Your characters’ voices will really stand out in a good framework. That’s what happened to my second novel. My first was a rambling road, but I spent some time studying how to structure a novel and I think my current WIP is much improved for the structure. My characters’ voices stand out and the plot is moving at a good clip.

      Thanks for stopping by and I LOVE your art work!


  2. Kelly Bryson says:

    I just read Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of The World”-definately a plot based book that follows a group of characters in a world in crisis. Besides feeling that it went on too long, I felt a bit unsatisfied. Sure, there’s this cool eastern philosophy edge, the dualism between man and woman, and it’s decently written, but I will pass on the others.

    A good plot is important because it puts the characters in a tough spot, and makes their decisions that much harder.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Kelly,

      I think that’s one reason I never clicked on Robert Jordan novels. His books are all extremely well-written, but there is a detachment with the characters that I never could get around.

      I like what you had to say about a good plot being important because it puts the characters in a tough spot.


  3. Interesting discussion on Characters, this is my first time on your blog, I just finished a book by a new author that I think you would really like.

    The book is: “Servant of a Dark God” by John Brown
    here is a link:

    The thing I liked about it was the whole story takes place over just a few days and the “her0” doesn’t leave his family to go on a huge quest but they all solve the problem together. I even felt an emotional connection to the villain.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Josh, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Brown’s novel, and I’ve got it high on my “to read” list. It does indeed sound like the kind of novel I’d like to read.

      Thank you so much for visiting!


  4. Beth says:

    I have a hard time separating the two. Ideally (IMO, anyway (g) ), plot should germinate from character: what he does (and yes, why he does it) determine the course of the story.

    Having said that, I have read (we all have) books where it’s clear the author constructed a plot, and then plugged in characters to make it function. The story is not really about them; it’s about events, with the characters existing purely to oil the machinery of the story. (Thrillers are often guilty of this.)

    I don’t care for books written that way. Give me a character-driven story any day, to read or to write. And that can be driven by one or two characters, or a whole cast .

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you for clarifying the difference, Beth, I think you gave the best example (with plot construction plugged with people to make the plot work) vs. character driven books.

  5. lawrenceez says:

    Hi Teresa,

    I like to concentrate on a viewpoint character’s experience of the world, particularly in regards to a build of psychological suspense, so this would involve a combination of character-led and plot-led. Personally, I can’t stand tacky plot-only stories. At the same time, I find character-only a bit tedious.

    Regarding my own writing and the editing report, a complex situation has presented itself. There’s a possibility I won’t get the report or even see my money again. I’ve given a brief update on my blog.

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