Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Plot Driven Stories

We hear talk all of the time about stories that are "character driven" or stories that are "plot driven." It really doesn't matter the approach you take with a project, however, you have to make sure that your story doesn't rely 100% on using that technique. Let me explain and I want to focus on the plot driven stories today.

I see this most often with romantic suspense stories, but in reality it can happen with any project. When a project needs a lot of external conflicts to keep the story moving, you can essentially describe that story as being on life support. In other words, if I eliminate the sudden car blowing up, or the new murder the characters see, the story comes to a dead stand still.

Why would a writer do this? The answer is really simple. In most cases, the writer has come up with a great initial premise of the story and they start writing. Unfortunately, the premise of the story may have some limited potential. As the writer proceeds into the project, and that "problem" is solved, their is a moment of panic. The romance element of the story is far from complete and now the writer is stuck with finding a way to "keep the characters together." So what do they do? Create a new problem.

As an agent, when I see that, I really view this as a story that is repetitive and has no forward momentum. A lot of times, I see this as soap opera style writing. I mean, let's face it. How many new plots have we seen Ericka have on All My Children? Sorry to say it, but she is far from a winning character if she goes through the same problems day after day.

There is another element to consider here with these plot driven stories. What is really keeping the characters together? The romance and the relationship certainly isn't it. When I read a story like this, I realize that there is no hope for these characters after I read the last page. This couple is doomed to fail in life unless they find a new "problem" to keep them together. Their life will become boring and lifeless.

A story can be action driven and full of suspense, but we need to have more going on than simply that plot. Make sure to keep that in mind as you write.


1 comment:

  1. Some really good points here. The idea of "problem solving" sounds like a really disjointed way of writing, ie linking several plots together, rather than having multiple conflicts that all lead towards the resolution of one underlying conflict. I suppose you can't have plot without characters, so it's all about the art of balancing the two.