Talk to me about…


…character-driven YA vs. plot-driven YA.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a character-driven novel is one that moves forward because of the protagonist, antagonist, and the decisions they make (most often romances or literary fiction–think Saving Francesca or The Sky is Everywhere). Conversely, a plot-driven story is propelled forward by circumstances, usually beyond the control of the protagonist (often historicals and fantasies–think The Hunger Games or Across the Universe). Although all novels have character growth and some semblance of story structure, most can be categorized as either character-driven or plot-driven.

While I read widely and enjoy books of all types, my tastes lean toward character-driven novels. I can appreciate a twisty, action-packed plot, but more often than not, my favorite books are those that are character-driven. I read to get lost in a new world and to get into the heads of fascinating people. I like to watch relationships develop and see characters grow and change and (hopefully) improve. After reading the final page of a novel, I most often find myself pondering the character arc before any other element of the story.

(Incidentally, the same can be said for my writing. I think about people first, story second. This, I suppose, is both a strength and a weakness. :))

Yes, thank you!

So… tell me:

  1. Do you prefer character-driven or plot driven stories? Why?
  2. What are your favorite character-driven novels? (Because I totally need MORE books to add to my TBR list!)
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37 responses to “Talk to me about…

  1. I am SUCH a plot girl. I’d like to think this is because I’m a psychopath without any compassion, but something tells me I might be delusional on that count. Lately, I’ve loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Rivals, and Past Perfect, to name a few.

    • Ooh, I have THE RIVALS sitting in my TBR pile… perhaps it will have to be the next book I pick up!

      I wish I had more of a plot mind. I so often come up with wonderful protagonists who, unfortunately, don’t have much to do.

  2. Hmmm. If I’m being totally honest, I have to go with neither. Or, rather, both. I am definitely a heart-stoppingly-awesome plot junkie but only if there’s one hell of a well-developed character at the helm. A great plot without a great character? No thanks. A great character without a great plot? Meh. But a book that brings both of them together? MAGIC.

  3. I’m all about the characters. Seriously, if I love them enough, invested enough in their issues, I can overlook almost anything else. πŸ™‚

    • That’s me too, Lynn! Sometimes I’ll read a book and adore it, then read a review that laments the book’s pacing or improbably twists or whatever, and I’ll think: Hmm… didn’t even notice because I was too wrapped up in the characters!

  4. I’m very much plot-driven. It’s just how my stories come to me.

  5. I always think up my characters first. But when I’m actually writing, I’m very plot driven. (Which is interesting, because I think most of the books I read are more character-driven…I think? I really need to look into this.)

    I’ll try to think of some character-driven books and post whatever I think of when I get home from work =)

  6. My absolute favorite type of novel is a good action/adventure (so plot-based) BUT if I am given no reason to care about or connect with the characters, even the most action-packed novel will disappoint me. So I guess my answer is both, or rather character-driven novels that come packed with twists and turns.

    THE HUNGER GAMES, for example, is a plot-driven book with so much action you can’t help but turn the pages, and at the same time, all of it’s characters are complex — from Katniss, to secondary characters like Haymitch. Maybe that’s why that book was near perfect in my eyes — it had such a wonderful balance of plot and character. I recently read UNDER THE NEVER SKY (Veronica Rossi) and felt the same way about that novel. Every character was complex and layered but the plot was searing! Those are my favorite kind of books.

    For solely character-driven novels, some of my favorites are: THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (as you’ve mentioned), INVINCIBLE SUMMER, and THE SCORPIO RACES (which yes, has some action, but at it’s core, I think it weighs more to the character side).

    Sorry for writing a short novel! Great, post though Katy. Love it.

    • I’ve heard such awesome things about UNDER THE NEVER SKY, Erin. I must get my hands on it soon, especially now that I know you think it has a good balance of plot and character. Personally, I can forgive a lot of plot issues (even LACK of a central plot) if I can truly connect with the characters. But yes, a good mix of both is certainly idea. πŸ™‚

  7. You know, I think I’m most commonly interested in character driven plots, but I can definitely enjoy plot driven novels just as well. With my own writing, I tend to almost always be character driven. The character is the first thing to evolve in my head and her story is always what propels me forward. Great post, Katy!

    • Cindy, we’re definitely similar. While I enjoy a good plot-driven story, characters always come first for me. They have to make me CARE about what’s going on with the plot. Same with my writing: characters first!

  8. I am so character-driven. Plot-driven books without really, really strong and well-developed characters are almost always a let-down for me.
    When I write, though, I have to focus mainly on the plot while drafting, and move the story to character-driven in revisions. Otherwise I get totally stuck.

    • Interesting that you reading/writing practices are opposite. I can see what you mean about focusing first on plot while drafting, though. Otherwise, there’s probably a good chance that the story will go absolutely nowhere. Never a good thing, no matter how lovely the characters are. Thanks, Rebecca!

  9. In terms of categories, I mostly prefer plot-driven stories. That is, my favorite books can all be categorized as plot-driven. But, like Erin said, truthfully, I want both, because if I am unable to connect with the protagonist, I won’t read very far.

  10. I can honestly say I don’t know. I like both so much, but I think plot-driven novels have to have really great characters that I actually care about for me to stay interested. The opposite doesn’t hold true for me, though. A character-driven novel only has to have interesting characters with great voice for me to care. Not much even really needs to happen for me to still love it. Does that make sense? I think I’m confusing myself. πŸ™‚ Great post, Katy!

    • Nope, totally makes sense, Jaime, because I feel the exact same way. I always enjoy a book when I connect with the characters, but even if I’m enthralled with a plot, if the characters don’t matter, I just don’t care.

  11. I think I find myself leaning character driven actually. But some of my favorites are so blurred. Like JR Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood (adult, by the way!) is so character driven, but it is Paranormal Romance and as such, the plot forces the characters’ hands. I remember discussing The Giver in an English class and we never could decide if it was plot or character driven. So maybe plot with the character butting in obnoxiously?

    • “So maybe plot with the character butting in obnoxiously?”

      Sounds pretty perfect, Vickie. πŸ™‚ And now you’ve got me thinking about THE GIVER… I suppose I’d lean more toward character-driven on that particular book, but it’s certainly got a twisty, captivating plot. One of my favorites!

  12. I agree, character is king. Here are a couple more good YA character driven novels: DARK WATER by Laura McNeal, and SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.

  13. I prefer plot-driven books, but obviously that doesn’t mean the characters can be flat. I’d rather have interesting things happen to or being done by people I care about than read people I care about figuring things out, whether those are internal or interpersonal problems.

    That said, I really recommend The Handmaid’s Tale, which I consider literary fiction even though it could be classed as science-fiction just because it’s so character-driven. When the premise is this good and the writing as stunning, I can definitely get behind character-driven stories.

    • Oh, after reading both your and Rebecca’s reviews of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, I’m most definitely going to hunt that one down and read it. It sounds lovely. Thanks, Sophia!

  14. I am so much more a character person than a plot person. I don’t care how cool and twisty a plot is if I don’t care about the characters. And when it comes to my own writing, I can NEVER come up with a plot! I come up with characters and figure out their relationships and who they are, but they just end up having the world’s longest conversation until I get some major help from my CPs. I’m just a character girl!

    • Ha! I’ve run into the same problem with my super-awesome characters many times, Jess. Witty and fun conversations about a whole lotta nothin’! I’m learning that I’m definitely not the only character girl in the bunch, and I’m in fantastic company! πŸ™‚

  15. I’m also a fan of character-driven novels. Have you read Deb Caletti? She’s one of my favorite authors and her stories are character-driven.

    • I’ve read Deb Caletti’s HONEY, BABY, SWEETHEART and I loved it. Definitely character-driven, and she seems to be a master at creating unique and engaging characters. I’m going to have to hunt down more of her work. Thanks, Ghenet!

  16. IΒ΄m with Jaime on this – I do enjoy both but I do need the plot-driven to have characters I can fall in love with too πŸ˜€
    I also like to read totally character-driven novels where they just take me by the hand and the heart. If a character can touch me, the action becomes secondary.

    • “If a character can touch me, the action becomes secondary.”

      Yes! That’s so me too, Elodie! I can overlook a plethora of sins if I connect with a novel’s characters.

  17. Great discussion. My preference kind of depends on my mood. I really love plot-driven, fast-paced novels but there are times when I just feel like a good ol’ character-driven romance. I guess to me the best books have both. I love action-based books that have awesome character development.

    When writing, though, I focus on characters first, which is strange since my stories tend to be plot-driven. The story comes to me as a single vague plot and I generally can’t build from there until I have my characters and their motivations figured out.

    • Sounds like you’ve got a good balance when it comes to your writing, Tracey. I wish I had a better handle on the development of big plot ideas. I’d rather ponder characters and motivations. πŸ™‚

  18. I think both when it comes to my stories which is probably why they are always such a BIG MESS. πŸ™‚ And I love reading both. And I love your concise definitions of both. You’re so crafty. πŸ˜‰

    • Ha! Thanks, Alison. I do try. πŸ™‚ And the general consensus of this discussion seems to be that the BEST novels have amazing plot AND characters (a rare find, I think!). So, you’re totally on the right track.

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