The Writing Life: What Drives Your Story?

What Drives Your Story?

By Michelle Janene

When writing fiction, stories can be led in one of two ways: by plot or by characters.

In plot driven fiction the focus is on the action and the external influences’ effect on the characters and what happens. Fight scenes will be extremely detailed. Weapons mentioned with pin-point accuracy. Battles or chases determine what the characters will be doing next.

In character driven fiction, it is about the internal struggle of the character. The internal motivations lead characters to make their decisions. The conflict of the character’s internal and external goals plays the largest role. The thoughts and desires of the characters will determine what they do next.

Both plot and character driven stories have wide followings. Knowing what we write and why will give us an advantage. It is good, so we can lean on a strength and also be aware of a weakness.

I first took note of this difference at a conference where we exchanged chapters. I was in a group that was all character driven and they kept asking me questions about my characters’ appearance and motivations.

I had asked them for more details in their action scenes. Both are vital to every tale, and while each piece may lean one way, efforts should be made to assure the other style isn’t completely ignored.

I primarily write plot driven stories. Reading through a novel I’m getting ready to send to an editor, I again acted out a fight scene to make sure every move was doable and realistic. Step-by-step, move-by-move in slow motion. If my main character does this then his assailant would do that. A certain action would result in this type of wound.

Yet a weakness remained. A glaring one. I didn’t even describe what the antagonist looked like. I barely gave him a name. In fact, other than the two main characters, I didn’t describe anyone. This is the area I need to revise most in my editing time. When I go back and work on re-writes—I develop the characters I neglected in the first draft.

Some ways to help flesh out weak characters is to go to the mall, or a coffee shop and people watch.

What are real people the same age as your character doing? How do they talk? Does anyone have an interesting characteristic: odd syntax, a swagger, a countenance that would enhance the main character. Those who write historical or period pieces can watch movies or read to collect the same type of information.

Plot driven weaknesses can be overcome by acting out action scenes. I once had a character who was hanging from a hook by handcuffs. At an event at school for my students to promote positive relations with law enforcement, I asked one officer—who was also a dad of one of my students—if he would put handcuffs on me. I then pulled on them to see where they would rub if I was hanging from them. A great resource for fighting, to distinguish what is real from what is Hollywood hype is It is a great site for weapons, and actions as well as wounds. Movies again will be a wealth of information for actions and reaction in situation that can’t easily be acted out. Internet research is also vital to get the details right.

Take some time to see what drives the novels you are reading and writing. Continue to build on your strength. Take the extra time in the rewrites to bolster the weaker area of your novel too.

About the Author

Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle's column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.

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