Character-Driven vs Plot-Driven for Romance Writers

Welcome to Writing Wednesday.

Some of my favorite movies as a kid were the action adventure with a lot of romance. Indiana Jone, Romancing the Stone, The Goonies. When I first discovered how much I really love reading it was Catherine Coulter’s Bride series. I read those books over fifteen years ago and they’re still with me. A lot of romance, characters who popped of the pages, mystery and adventure. Loved, loved, loved them. I will warn you that they are mainstream romance, with some steamy scenes. I no longer read mainstream romance, but Catherine Coulter and Victoria Alexander along with many other Regency romance writers were/are a big influence.

They know the craft. They know how to weave great stories. It’s what makes the some of the top selling authors in romance. One dream of mine is to see my name on New York Times Bestseller List. Of course, I think that is a dream of many authors. You may think that is a tall order for a romance author but if you look at today’s Paperback Mass-Market Fiction list there are two romance authors in the top ten, seven in the top twenty, eight if you include Nicolas Sparks as a romance writer.

The only downside for me is I’m not just a romance author, I’m an inspirational romance author. And sadly, it seems, in this day and age people crave steamy scenes and otherworldly creatures. I remember when I wrote mainstream (I had no idea an inspirational market existed at the time) the editors reading my stories wanted more sex and paranormal elements.

The upside is I’m writing in the genre that God has called me to write and with Him in control I expect good things to happen. HOWEVER, I also know that I need to do my best. I need to seek a standard of excellence, which means I also need to constantly learn the art of writing.

I told you a few days ago that I had called an audible. I felt  I needed to work on a third book in my Biblical series instead of a pioneer story, and after speaking with my editor she agreed. However, knowing what I needed to do and knowing how to do it don’t doesn’t always mix.

Most of my stories come to me with a specific character. Like my western. My heroine came to me in a dream and it was a never ending dream. For three weeks she stood on a hillside, skirt and hair blowing in the Kansas wind, prairie grass to her knees. I knew she was said, but why? It didn’t take me long to figure that out. The story, although heavy on the action/adventure, is very much character driven. My first Biblical was inspired when I read a passage about a bond servant. What if he fell in love with his master’s daughter? What if he really wasn’t a bond-servant? It was easy to fill the story with action, easy to keep it going. As I’ve said before, that story was written in fifty-five days. Not impossible, but not easy either, at least for me. Second Biblical, yeah same thing. I had a hero. When I first thought about his story I had no idea who his heroine would be, but it didn’t take long to discover who she was.

And so, here I am looking at book three. I know who my characters are, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out a plot to help drive the story. I know her internal goals, motivations and conflict, and I know his, at least for the most part and the more I think on him the clearer his become. Thanks to writing partner extraordinaire, Carol Moncado, I’ve got a better grasp on this story than I did two days ago.

I’m also beginning to understand a little more about character driven stories vs plot driven stories.  At first I thought the difference between the two was this:

Plot-driven- characters are driven by the plot
Character driven- plot is driven by the characters
As simple as it looks, it’s not quite that simple. Here is a great article by Plot Whisperer guru Martha Alderson Character Driven or Action Driven? By the way, if you don’t have her book and workbook The Plot Whisperer it should be on your to buy craft list.  Okay, so I took the test, and it seems that book three is more dramatic action, but I was also able to fill out some of questions 4-10. I guess that means that have some Character Emotional Development, but that I could work on strengthening that area of my writing.
Now, let’s look at another article on Character-Driven/Plot-Driven:

Character-driven: When something about the character’s essential self leads to a particular action or event in the story.

Plot-driven: When a character takes a particular action so that the result is a particular plot point.

Yes, they basically mean the same thing, but Theresa’s definitions expand a little more on the concept. I especially love ‘essential self’. I also love that she says the character takes a particular action.

But it gets better. Remember, I’m a romance writer, so this next bit of information is spot on, which is probably why there can be some confusion when it comes to plotting romance stories.

Because the endpoint of a romance is always presumed — an HEA between the hero(es) and heroine(s) — the story will always be plot-driven. That is presumed. It’s built into the conventions of the genre.

And this:

And because romance requires the resolution of characters into a pair-bond (or trio-bond, or alien-orthodontist bond, or what have you), there will also always be aspects of the story which are character-driven. Each character will have to figure out a way to evolve in order to be worthy of the HEA, and that evolution will take place in the context of action. So romance is also always character-driven. It is presumed and built into the conventions of the genre, just the same as the HEA is a plot-driven aspect of the genre.

It gets better.

So given all these assumptions, romance writers use the terms character-driven and plot-driven to describe something else, something particular to their genre.

Yeah, who knew. All this time I’ve been trying to figure out plot vs. character driven stories and I’ve been looking at it the wrong way.

So when romance writers say their story is plot-driven, they’re usually referring to the external plot. And when they say it’s character-driven, they’re usually referring to the internal plot.

NOW, I understand. Totally and completely. I think. 🙂

Remember the test from Martha Alderson’s article, which seems is not specified for the romance genre? According to the test, my story is stronger on the dramatic action, but after reading these little tidbits from Theresa Stevens’ article it seems that is not the case because I know the internal. It’s the external that I’m struggling with.  Which, I might add, is completely different from all the other stories I’ve written.

Talk about stepping out of the box and learning something new.

Please do go and read both articles. They have a wealth of helpful information and there just might be something there that makes a light bulb turn on.

2 responses to “Character-Driven vs Plot-Driven for Romance Writers”

  1. Very interesting! I have a terrible head cold and as I scroleld through, I thought, “Ugh, there’s no way I can focus on all these quotes”. BUT this was so concise, so clear that I ended up getting it right along with you!

    P.S. I took the test and answered all of them right off, even though the WIP is only in chap 3. Interesting points there about dramatic action and internal conflict, and the type of writers we are.

  2. I know the post is long, but I couldn’t decide what to cut. 😉

    I’m glad it was readable and glad you got it!! Amazing how much we continue to learn.

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