I don’t believe many novels can be described solely as character-driven or plot-driven. Books usually lean toward one or another on a type of spectrum. For the purpose of this post I will defining plot-driven stories as those that revolve more around the action of the story and character-driven as those that focus more on the inner struggles of its characters.
Ideally a balance between character and plot make the more compelling novel, but I find that if a story line doesn’t appeal to me, I will still keep reading because of how interesting the characters are. The same cannot be said if these roles are reversed. A story line can be really interesting, but if the characters themselves are bland or undeveloped, I have a hard time staying interested. Plot may drive a story, but it is the characters that keep readers invested in it.
Plot is important as it gives the story the right kind of setting and often sets up a physical obstacle for its characters. Conflict often challenges our characters and gives them a place in the bigger world. Plot requires action and it is this action that drives a story forward from the introduction to the climax and ultimately to the resolution. But for a novel to truly hit a chord with me, I want to see more than action, I want to see the main character internalize this action.
Character-driven novels are best when we see the inner struggles of its characters, when these actions correspond with a believable thought-process. When a novel is driven solely by plot or leans heavily on it without paying attention to its characters, these characters become much more akin to an idol. Characters become heroes without the author delving into their inner psyches, thus making them a kind of Superman. But having flaws, struggling to come to terms with who you are, has a much greater appeal. How can a reader relate to these characters if they are merely examples of the best virtues?
Perhaps characters that are closer to perfection are the ones who struggle, the ones who make mistakes and who you sometimes wish would make different choices. They draw you in because like you they are flawed, their imperfections, from being insecure to being impetuous to being prideful, are something you can relate to. It is difficult to care about characters that I cannot in some way relate to. I often find characters who overcome their inner demons to be more compelling than those who succeed in defeating a whole army. Personally, I am an emotional reader. I care how a book makes me feel, I want to care for its characters, because it is this connection that keeps me reading.
What is your opinion? Do you believe plot or characters are more important? Which kind of books do you prefer?