Writers tend to gravitate to one or the other when they come up with a new idea. Some can create complex characters but lack the ability to create meaningful conflict for the story to be interesting. While other writers can create high concept page-turning ideas but create one-dimensional characters, making the story fall flat. But great writers can execute both parts of the story to create a compelling narrative. These are the ones who are getting paid to create their own stories or help studios create theirs. So, if your stories are falling a little flat, let’s find out which type of writer you are and address the weaknesses to help you tell a better story.
If you’re a plot-driven writer, you tend to come up with high-concept ideas based on an external problem that needs to be solved. You tend to write action, Sci-Fi, fantasy, mystery, or thriller stories. Think about a movie like JURASSIC PARK. A movie about someone trying to stop dinosaurs from escaping a theme park and prevent the death of millions isn’t something that we see every day, but that's the point. You create stories that garner interest strictly off the premise alone.
If you’re a character-driven writer, you tend to create coming-of-age stories or family dramas that track the internal struggles of characters. You tend to focus on emotion rather than spectacle. Think about a movie like WHIPLASH. A movie about a musician attending a music school isn’t something that people haven’t heard of before. But the complexity of the characters and their will to complete their external goal based on their inner need is what makes the story interesting.
How to balance plot-driven:
An issue some plot-driven writers have is that they create these grand ideas but develop one-dimensional characters to serve the plot. You must remember that your characters push the story forward. Plot isn’t just what happens to your characters, it's how they REACT to it. They’re not puppets that you bend and mold to your will. They must make choices based on who they are. To do this, you must develop their backstory and their motivations. You must understand why they do what they do and put it in your script for the reader to understand as well.
How to balance character-driven:
One thing that character-driven writers struggle with is externalizing your character’s internal conflict. Your characters need an external goal so the reader can track their internal change. For example, if your character wants to be loved, then they’ll have the external goal of securing a relationship with their love interest. We see their flaw and their willingness to get into the relationship will affect them or those around them negatively. Our gauge is now external and your character will now be active in pursuit of a goal. Not having an external goal can make your story fall flat, which makes the reader lose interest.
So, when you revisit your baby or start a new project, see which side you lean towards and see if you are lacking in either department. Once you find your weakness, you can take the necessary steps to improve your skills and create a compelling story that readers and execs don’t want to put down!
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-Written by Collin Shaw
Shannan E. Johnson, CEO