The Perils of Being a Plot-Driven Writer

When you're writing a story, do you ever find yourself rushing things to get to the next plot point?

Do your characters ever make a certain decision or perform a certain action because it's convenient for you?

Then congratulations! You are a plot-driven writer!

Just in case you have no idea what a plot-driven writer is, here's a quick rundown.

Fiction writers can generally be divided into two categories: plot-driven writers, and character-driven writers.

  • Plot-driven writers start with their plot. Their primary focus is moving the plot from A to B, and they don't really care how that happens.
  • Character-driven writers start with their characters. Their main focus is to let the story grow naturally out of the characters.
Generally, plot-driven fiction tends to be more commercial, and character-driven fiction tends to be more literary. Also, for some reason, the majority of writers are plot-driven (including yours truly).

Anyway, back to the main point of this post. Being plot-driven can result in some great, exciting stories, but it can also result in some unrealistic situations. Here are a few common mistakes that plot-driven writers make (and I've made all of these mistakes, so ... yeah).

1. A character (usually not the main character) knows some information that's incredibly important, but they don't tell anyone for AGES.

The reason we plot-driven writers do this is because we want to keep the suspense going. We don't want to reveal stuff now! We want to do it later, after lots of guessing and angst!

But it's just not realistic. If someone finds out something important, they'll tell their friends as soon as possible. So we've just got to suck it up and either reveal the information sooner, or come up with a legitimate reason why they didn't tell anyone (e.g. they were scared of the bad guys, or they weren't sure they were right and didn't want to unnecessarily scare people).

2. The main character reaches a completely illogical conclusion about something, just to throw readers off the scent of the real solution.

As an example, let's say that we've got a character called Jane. Jane comes home one day to find that her window has been broken and her TV is missing. Jane's train of thought goes like this:

Oh, I bet Mrs Collins across the road came and borrowed my TV. I remember her saying that her TV had gone missing. She must have used the spare set of keys I gave her. And she probably tripped and broke the window by mistake. I'd better go visit the poor dear and see if she's all right!
Except ... any rational person would immediately call the police to tell them there's a terrible TV thief on the loose. *Duh*

As plot-driven writers, we have to be extra careful to make sure our characters think rationally. Sometimes, we make them think irrationally just because it's easier. But we have to force ourselves to do things right.

3. A character behaves in a very out-of-character way.

Let's say you have a very guarded, aggressive character. They are not going to instantly become friends with someone they've only just met. But then you have to mess around with them getting to know each other and slowly gaining trust and ... ugh, it's just too much work! Why can't they just be friends already?

Because it's not realistic for this character. We have to keep our characters in character, even if it means a lot of extra work.

Basically, anything that happens because "reasons" needs to be changed.

As you might expect, most of a plot-driven writer's problems are centered around their characters. Characters are our weak point, and making them behave realistically is very hard. You need to read your story with a critical eye to weed out the times when your plot-driven-ness messes things up, and then you need to get someone else (or several someone elses) to read it too, to flag things you missed.

Sometimes it's a simple fix. Sometimes you might need to rewrite your whole story. But it's all in a day's work for a (good) plot-driven writer.

Don't compromise on your characters to get from A to B

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