Writing: Character Driven Vs Plot Driven – Do You Know The Difference?

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Stories are driven by two elements, either; the plot, or the character.

Yet sometimes distinguishing the two can get you lost in translation. Think of the amount of characters in The Lord of The Rings (Peter Jackson), surely it is a character driven story, right? No, it’s plot driven.  As the circumstances are beyond the control of the characters.

A plot driven story is one where the plot defines who a character is. So for example if you remove Legolas from the story and replace him with another Elf, who has different characteristics, tiny details of story would change but it doesn’t cause the structure of the entire story to collapse.  At the end of the film Legolas is a different man Elf than he was before because of the incidents that took place in the plot.  Even if you remove Frodo, who is more or less the main protagonist and replace him with another Hobbit, the event, which is the battle for middle earth still takes place, the call to action still exists.

Whereas The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan), is a completely character driven story. If you change one thing about the smallest character the dynamic of the whole story changes. If you were to remove the main character from the story, Batman in this instance, unlike The Lord of The Rings there would not be a story left to tell. Batman’s presence in the world creates the actions and the incidents which drive the story. This is a character driven plot; the character progresses the story until completion.

“See, this is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham! If you want order in Gotham, Batman must take off his mask and turn himself in. Oh, and every day he doesn’t, people will die, starting tonight. I’m a man of my word.”

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.

  • Davis Evans

    Hey, what happens when these story types are combined? is it possible? Or would it just be worse than the train wreck in super 8?

    • IndieTips

      Great comment, I’ll probably go back and cover that in the post. If a film is a plot driven film there will be so moments when the characters push it forward, and visa versa. But if a film doesn’t know what type of plot it has, neither will the audience.

    • G. Xiong

      I would wager that movie is plot driven, these characters are caricatures of Spielberg’s characters, they rely on our own memories of these archetypes rather then they themselves being fully fleshed. Replace any of them and the plot still goes along: the train crashes, the alien leaves at the end. Non of the characters really influence the plot, they are mostly along for the ride filling in nostalgic feelings of older films.

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