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Dec 01

Mary Deal Discusses Plot Driven versus Character Driven Stories

Plot Driven or Character Drive

by

Mary Deal

A book writing format includes numerous topics and fine points, many of which I have already written about. However, two writing objectives include knowing if your story is plot driven or character driven. Writing topics can sometimes dictate this but the story itself will identify into which category your story fits.

Plot Driven – We mystery writers or genre writers create plot driven prose. Early in the story, the mystery is introduced. Readers know that ultimately the mystery will be solved; it’s how the writer brings this about that drives the plot.

A recent example of a plot driven story is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Another example from a little while back is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

Putting the characters through their functions is what adds suspense and tension to the story. Whatever the characters stir up or endure all feeds into the plot. In order to keep these stories from feeling one or two dimensional, the writer must make the characters exciting in such a way that the information about each character enhances the plot. You can enhance your characters all you want, but if the information doesn’t enliven and enhance the plot, cut it. Find other ways to make your character three dimensional and that also make the reader feel they needed to know this or that about a particular character in order to further understand the plot.

Character Driven – Most nonfiction writers produce character driven fiction. Whatever the character says or does directs the story and the action. The character leads. You’ve heard the saying that the characters wrote the story, right? That is character driven. We are more concerned here in what the characters do and say that propels the story forward and creates new action. A plot may or may not exist, except to be created by the main characters actions and responses to story developments.

A good example of a character driven plot was Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden.

The fine line between the two – plot driven or character driven – is that plot driven contains a predetermined plot with the characters interacting in the story line and the story comes to a conclusion. In this sense, since no one knows how the characters will react, the characters lend a blend of character driven action to a plot driven story.

In nonfiction, even literary fiction, the story evolves from the character’s thoughts, emotions and decisions and where he or she will take the action. If the desired ending is strong beforehand, this lends itself to a bit of plot driven scenario, though character driven stories usually find their own endings as the story evolves.

A problem with character driven plots is that a writer may proceed to a certain point and realize they want the story go proceed toward a certain ending. From this point all the characters follow or feed into that end. This has a tendency to distort the part of the character because it’s easy to have your character do something that isn’t cohesive with the personality you’ve established for them. If at some point in the story, you see the ending and you make all the characters move in that direction, your story then becomes plot driven.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in some of the stories I’ve edited is the inclusion of a prologue. First, this represents the writer unskilled enough to work back story into the present plot. But more than that, plot drive stories don’t always allow for the characters to contemplate or think through their actions. Plot driven usually moves at a fast pace and characters react spontaneously or compulsively.

In character driven stories, characters are contemplative. We get to know their inner thought processes. It might be easier to work prologue into these types of stories because showing a person’s inner workings allows us to realize their back story and resultant motivations.

So the problem I recognized while editing is that writers do not know if their stories are plot driven or character driven. Understanding the difference between these two categories will make writing a lot simpler.

Distinct differences exist between plot driven and character driven. In actuality, a polished writer will create a unique balance of the two.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Oct 15

Western Romance, Chick Lit, Feminist…all Descriptions of Mike Angley’s Guest Author, Lotus Landry and her Novel, “Skookum Man”

MA: I’m joined today by Lotus Landry, author of the Western Romance, Skookum Man. Lotus had a prior career as a software applications developer for aerospace projects – among these were line-of-sight helicopter sight stabilization code. She resides in the Los Angeles vicinity and has two adult sons. (One of her sons is able to combine software and storytelling as a video games developer). She is a native of Seattle and grew up not far from the setting of the book.

Lotus told me she chose to write a novel because she loves to work on very large and intricate projects – especially those which fall outside the boundaries of traditional genres. I can understand that with her background in the aerospace industry, something that warms my heart!

Please tell us about Skookum Man.

LL: In Skookum Man a chick lit feminist confronts a greenhorn ladies man in 1830s rainforest. It’s been tagged as: Western Romance; Feminist; Chick Lit; Pacific Northwest; Kindle Romance. The book is set in a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, the Pacific Northwest, circa 1810. Men and women from divergent worlds meet in an Arden-like forest. In those strange woods the reader is introduced to: wood-wise ingénues, confused men, matronly women, clever animals, and assorted asses and fools. The introductions are lovingly conducted by a benign narrative presence.

That’s a happy beginning- but as the story progresses….the benign presence becomes somewhat sinister. The wood-wise ingénues lose their wisdom; the confused men become calculating; and the outpost seems to contract into itself. As in many fairy tales, the story’s conclusion is uncertain and … disturbing(?). It is a fairy tale with a modern edge – a romantic speculation – a speculative history. The book’s airy structure and modern references contribute to its bouncy, tale-like mood.

It features Jane, who is sometimes called ‘Matooskie’, and her accidental boyfriend, Robert. Jane, who knows how to take care of herself in the remote rain forest of the Pacific Northwest, has been brought up as a free range child. She is multicultural and disciplined enough to master Latin.

Robert is a newly arrived officer at the fort, a remote place with several peculiar luxuries but very few romantic options. He has a history of being a slick player of sophisticated women of the London social scene. He is honored as ‘skookum’ by the local Indian clan even though he demonstrates that he has no wilderness skill sets.

MA: Tell us more about Jane, or Matooskie.

LL: The main character, Matooskie, has trouble integrating her two natures. She has a Chinook Indian heritage from which she derives her expertise for surviving in the forests, but she is also eager to please her father by adopting the trappings of a proper British lady.

Matooskie is extremely tenacious and goal directed and loves keeping secrets. She is sharp enough to master Latin with the assistance of the private tutors who pass through the fortress as guests.

MA: Yours is such a unique story…how did you come up with the idea?

LL: I was influenced by contemporaries from the Pacific Northwest. When I wrote the heroine as a person with a passion for botany and a compulsion to classify plants, I gave her the habits of my best friend’s mother, a horticultural writer, who deposited her children on trailheads in remote mountain forests where the children were instructed to seek rare plant species.

When I invented another woman, the woefully displaced British matron of the story, I gave her the confusion of a 20th century transplant to Oregon from Maryland, who mistakenly thought that she could not leave the house – for months—until the rain stopped. I included native people as some of the first people I myself saw when I moved into Oregon were Indians spearing and smoking fish along the old Columbia River highway.

MA: Any person, childhood experiences that you drew from?

LL: When I consider the inspiration for writing Skookum Man, it becomes apparent that whatever happened to me in the fourth grade did not stay in the fourth grade. Of course, this is the year that kids become immersed in the history of their respective states and the folklore sticks to them like pieces of campfire marsh mellows on a stick – even when they settle elsewhere. In my case, we studied sea explorers and the forts and covered wagons and it wasn’t unusual for one chum to blurt out that she was a descendant of the famous trapper, Joe Meek. Regrettably, when one moves away and settles in another state, one ends up clueless (for decades) about the arcane of the new state because fourth grade can only happen in one place. The brain accumulates only one set of lore that is reinforced by the field trips of childhood.

MA: Okay, so what’s in your writing future?

LL: I’m currently working on my next novel, a cozy mystery set in contemporary Orange County, California. It features two career women with unusual occupations who belong to a Homeowners Association.

MA: Lotus – thanks for stopping by and telling us all about Skookum Man. If my readers want to learn more, please visit: www.matooskie.com.
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Apr 16

Author and U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray Makes a State Visit to the Child Finder Trilogy

I have a very special guest today. Charles Ray is not only an author, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray is a native of East Texas, and has been involved in leading organizations (particularly those in trouble) for over 40 years. He’s written a number of articles on history, culture and leadership, and recently completed a book on leadership, Taking Charge: Effective Leadership for The Twenty-First Century, which is a follow-on to Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life. Although he says he goes by Charlie, Geronimo, or Tank…I’ll just call him Mr. Ambassador! Read More

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