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Friday, April 10, 2009

Who's Driving This Thing?!

Since a Fantastic Friday post would be sadly empty (got the blog award, and...um...started eating solid food again?) I'm going to jump right into a thought-provoking post.

A question has been on my mind for awhile now. Well, it's more of an observation, really, but I thought it'd spark some interesting discussion. So here we go:

What's driving your novel?

My novels are always, always, ALWAYS plot-driven. Always. So much so, in fact, that writing a character-driven novel is extremely difficult for me. What first brought this realization to my attention was The Tudor Tool; it is turning into a character-driven novel. Who let this happen, I don't know, but it is happening, and it is bothering me greatly because it is shaking the foundation of my little writing world.

Firstly, neither way is better than the other -- I just happen to have always preferred plot-driven. I greatly envy those who can write character-driven, as they have a level of character richness that I toil and fight and scrape and bleed to have even a little bit of. And the fact that The Tudor Tool is becoming character-driven means I am in for a long, painful, soul-wrenching writing process. Gotta love those.

In my head, character-driven means the center of the story is the characters. Their development, their emotions, their struggle/growth. There is a plot and a world that grows around the characters, but for the most part the story's strength lies on the characters and people read the book for the characters. I have been wracking my book shelf for a good example of this, but I keep coming back to something not on my book shelf: Natalie's Void. I know it's not readily available for you all to pick up and see the example I'm trying to make, but you'll just have to take my word for it. While it is a story about a girl who is born without magic to a wizard family, it is more a story of a girl coming into her own in the world and becoming a woman. There is a wizarding world and a whole magical universe, but Coral's self-growth takes the most precedence.

This is an awesome way to drive a novel because it relies heavily on emotion, and people always relate to it in some way. The characters become breathable, livable, viable beings that readers would follow anywhere, to any novel/world/story. This is why books like the Anita Blake series (hey, there's another example!) can go on and on and on, because the characters are so driven that readers must keep reading them. (Not saying that plot-driven doesn't have real, breathable characters. It's just that character-driven tends to focus on those characters.)

Plot-driven is a whole other ball park. What drives this kind of novel is the plot/world itself -- the story is big, "sprawling," and any manner of characters pop up in it. The easiest way to explain this one is to explain how I come up with my novel ideas. I see the story first -- with Stream Pirate, I saw the world develop when I was sitting in a geology class. A world of rivers and steam boats and dangerous underwater beasties. The more the world formed, the more I realized I needed characters to fill rolls and move the world/plot forward. Enter Yazoo, Alluvial, and the rest. Some of them had backstories, some didn't; either way, they all showed up in the plot/world I had created and let it sweep them away. They had lives and desires and emotions, but the plot/world was more prominent than they were.

This is a fun way to drive a novel because it deals a lot with "sweeping." Where character-driven engages readers on an emotional level and allows them to relate to their own lives, plot-driven engages them on an above-and-beyond level; it makes them forget about their own lives and sweeps them into an entirely different world (sometimes literally, like Middle Earth; sometimes a world within our world, like Jurassic Park).

Both modes of driving rock equally. Writing this post has helped me understand my inability to write character-driven novels; I prefer to deal with sweeping people away and not with their immediate emotional fluxuations. But I am determined to write The Tudor Tool (or, really, my MC is more determined to have her story told), even if it results in me sobbing over my laptop. For being a girl, I'm horrifically out-of-tune with emotions.

PS: Two posts until the 100th Post Extravaganza! *drum roll*


Natalie Whipple said...

Um, first I love that my book got a mention. You are awesome squared. Cubed, even.

I agree that neither plot nor character driven is "better." Just different. And I enjoy both very much. Stream Pirate rocked;)

I guess you know that I tend to be very character driven. I don't have a story unless there's a quirky new voice telling me what their world is like. And yes, they make me cry all the freaking time.

Sara Raasch said...

I never usually have a specific MC voice telling me what the world is like, which is why this story is so different. Usually I tell them, and they work around it. First time I have to relinquish world-control to my characters. *sigh* It's tough. How do you do it so much?

Sara Raasch said...

PS: Your books and Kiersten's book got me thinking about this more, actually, because you both write such strong character-driven. I will forever be jealous of the insane amount of character-driven novels you both crank out. You make it look easy ;)

Natalie Whipple said...

I guess it's just how I work. I don't know how else to write. I wouldn't know the first thing about making a book plot-driven.

Sara Raasch said...

I think writers tend to be hardwired one way or the other. Every so often a writer can do both easily, but it's like being able to write with both hands -- most of us are just lefties or right-handers.

lisa and laura said...

This is so interesting mostly because I've never really thought to categorize us before.

I think our writing is mainly plot driven. There definitely is some character growth, but the plot of the book is at the forefront.

Great post! I'm going to keep noodling on this one...

Sara Raasch said...

L&L -- Glad I could make you noodle ;)

Nikki said...

Sara, it depends on how much training the character got when they were on the island. Duh.

Sara Raasch said...

Nikki -- Oh, of course! I can't believe I forgot that...