Tuesday, February 21, 2017
"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Toni Morrison.
Great advice, but what kind of novel do you want to write? In addition to choosing your genre, you also have to decide whether you want to spend more writing hours working on your exciting plot, or on those fascinating characters that live in your head. Often, your chosen genre dictates the structure of the book, but sometimes the lines can cross.
Although literary purists would say that you need to focus on one or the other, it's perfectly acceptable to blend the character-driven story with the plot-driven one. The key is balance.
A plot-driven novel focuses on the anticipation and excitement of what happens next. It involves physical events, and unexpected twists. There are often large-scale concepts involved in this type of novel. Like car crashes and kidnappings, aliens and avalanches.
Adventure, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, crime, and mystery novels are most often plot-driven stories. They are external, and considered commercial fiction by agents, editors, and publishers.
In a character-driven novel, readers connect with people like themselves, how they would or would not like to be seen. These are emotional stories and don't need a complex plot to progress from beginning to end. Of course, there is still a plot but it is based on character growth and change. There are goals and personal issues to resolve in a character-driven novel. Characters usually have to overcome obstacles to their happiness, and plot happens because of a character's desires, deeds, and needs. Decisions are made, whether they are right or wrong, and there is more internal conflict than there is action.
Romance, coming-of-age, friendship, and family novels are character-driven and are usually considered literary novels.
But there are no longer concrete rules for fiction, as in the past. Today's fiction often incorporates both types of stories in one. It's okay to create a story wherein you display your character's most intense emotions and psychological traits with an active plot that highlights their soul's journey. There's no reason your "hard-boiled" detective can't sign up for meditation classes, and you won't commit literary sin if your introspective, mousy librarian transforms into a kick-ass roller-derby gal on Friday nights.
As writers, I believe we write what we enjoy reading. The kind of book you should write is probably sitting on your bedside table right now.