Monday, March 21, 2011

Challenge: Plot-Driven or Character-Driven?


Last week, I wrote a post on the pros and cons of multiple points of view, as well as effective ways of creating more than one viewpoint. Then Jenn Hubbard came out and said what had been in the back of my mind the whole time:

“I think multiple narrators is a device that has become much more common in recent years. And, to be honest, I'd like to see writers rely on it a little less.”

I wholeheartedly agree. And, Jenn, I always love your comments. :)

I think many writers, particularly those just starting out, tend to rove from character to character because it feels like you’re getting more of your story out there. Which, I guess, you are. But at what expense?

Like Jenn, I’ve seen multiple points of view become more common lately. And, like Jenn, I often wish the story had stayed with one character instead of several. But it’s not necessarily because I think the story didn’t work—I just think it could have been better. Too many points of view can lessen the impact on the reader, and your subtext can get lost along the way. Also, having so many characters share their thoughts and opinions can overwhelm the reader, risking the loss of his interest. A good story has a good balance of everything, and sometimes attaining that balance requires sticking to a single viewpoint.

Staying in one point of view can be difficult, especially if you’ve got a complicated plot. The more complicated the plot, the harder it is to pull off with only one viewpoint. I think many plot-driven books have more than one point of view for this reason, where the character-driven books stay with one person. It’s just easier. But is it going to bring out the best possible aspects of your story?

For any of you interested, here’s a challenge. Make a list of your top ten books with multiple points of view. Just for fun, see if you can determine whether each story is plot-driven or character-driven. Next, try to imagine the story in only one viewpoint. Does it work? If you’re really up for a challenge, then turn this into a writing exercise and create an outline of that story using only one viewpoint. Do you still have a complete story? My guess is that, at least for some of them, you will.

For your own story, is it plot-driven or character-driven? If it’s character-driven, you probably have one point of view. If not, you might have more than one. And, if that’s true, then I have another challenge for you. Try writing your story from one person’s perspective. If that sounds incredibly daunting or impossible, well, all I have to say is this: that’s good. And, no, I’m not evil or masochistic or anything of the sort. :) It’s good because that means taking on this challenge will push you out of your comfort zone, and many many many amazing things can come of that. :)

Who’s up for the challenge?

10 comments:

salarsenッ said...

Great idea for an exercise. It's funny; I wrote the first draft of my 2nd manuscript in one POV. Then, when I began revisions, I decided to try two POVs. It's worked out, but know I'm changing tenses. It's all about growth for both me, the writer, and my characters.

I do agree that writing too many POVs can confuse the reader, and heck the writer as well. You've really made me think about the Plot-Driven or Character-Drive question.

Tabitha said...

I think that's the perfect way to try it. Start with one, and if it feels lacking then try another. And if that still doesn't work, then maybe the story needs to go back to one. It's all about learning and growing. :)

Anne M Leone said...

So true. I wrote a novel with three povs and finally had to bury it. It just wasn't working, for precisely the reasons you mentioned. No regrets, though, as it taught me EVERYTHING I know about creating distinctive voices. But I occasionally have thought about resurrecting it... with only one narrator. =)

Jessie Harrell said...

My first novel has 2 POVs, but it really is necesasry. The only way 1 POV would work is if it's 3d person omniscient, which I just don't like. And yeah, that book is probably more plot-driven. I like to think you can still really connect with the characters too though...
interest post - you've got me thinking for future novels.

kellyhashway said...

I've read a few books lately that used multiple POV that really didn't need it. I think they some of them would've been told better with a single POV.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Thanks, Tabitha--I think I'm going to say even more by posting on this, too!

Logan E. Turner said...

Awesome idea! Although first I have to think of all the multiple POV stories I've read.

Nancy Thompson said...

I often see posts about having "too many" POV, but wonder, in a plot-driven story, how many is too many? While I have a total of 3 POV, I only use 2 at a time & by that I mean I did not introduce the third until the second had died (the turning point.) And there was no way I could tell the story in third person with all the heavy emotion involved. So how many IS too many?

Solvang Sherrie said...

It's funny, I've always enjoyed books like the Artemis Fowl series where he uses multiple POV, but it always seemed harder to me to be able to pull off. Maybe it's just harder to pull off well. I've always written from just one POV, but my stories are definitely more character driven. This is an interesting idea for an exercise, though I'm not sure if I have the nerve to try :)

Samita (Book Purring) said...

I like character driven, but it's not like I will hate/not read plot driven. I just noticed I enjoy more when it's character driven.