November 10, 2010 | By: Tracy

Character vs. Plot

Okay, before I jump into today's post, I have a confession to make.

10 days in & I've already fallen off the NaNoQuerMo mark. Not because I forgot, got scared or even lazy. But because -- despite my dozens upon dozens of attempts -- as of yesterday I still hadn't created a query that felt right.

Then I accidentally stumbled upon a simple piece of advice which had never been expressly pointed out to me before. And sometimes I really need things spelled out for me in huge, neon letters!!

If your story is character-driven than your query should be character based. If your story is plot-driven than your query should be plot based. 

YES! That makes so much sense. . . but um, I've always been sketchy on what the distinction is between the two. I mean all stories have characters right? But they also have plot . . . very sketchy indeed.

Sadly enough, in order for it to make sense I needed to relate the terms to movies. So for those of you who've also been kind of not exactly sure how your story fits into things...

Character Driven
Character driven stories are ones where it's the characters, more than anything else, that moves the story forward. The actual events that happen aren't as important as how the characters feel, act and relate to those events. Case in point:
The Notebook

The story is about Noah & Ally and their star-crossed love. You could swap out virtually all but one of the reasons that continually drive them apart (the whole alzheimer's thing is pretty damn important) because in the end, the only thing that matters is Noah & Ally finding their way back to each other no matter the obstacles.

Their story is character driven.

Plot Driven
Plot driven stories can have wonderful, quirky, well-developed characters, but ultimately they don't matter as much as the plot. It's the events that happen that drive the story along. Case in point:

(okay, I know technically Ben Affleck wasn't the main star of the movie, but I was so in love with him back then!)

Yes, Bruce Willis & his rag-tag group of deep-sea oil drillers are a diverse and interesting bunch, but this movie kept us on the edge of our seats because of the plot. When there's a giant asteroid hurtling through space on a collision course for earth, while there's only 18 days to figure out a way to stop it . . . the characters really have no choice but to play second fiddle.

Their story is plot driven.


Now back to me. <---- That just made me feel like the Old Spice guy. Creepy.

Anyway, it took me all this time to realize, the reason my query never felt right to me was because I was trying to write a plot-based one for a character-based story. Two days ago, I began redrafting my query (for only the bazillion and tenth time), but I focused more on my character and less on the intricacies of the plot. . . and low & behold I found the "voice" that's been missing from every other version I've created thus far.

Now, I'm not claiming the query is perfect, but for the first time I feel much more comfortable the agents who read it are getting a better idea of the type of story they'd be requesting. Now, I just have to spend the rest of this week getting caught up on those few days of querying I missed while I was completely revamping.

12 witty remarks:

salarsenッ said...

Nice post! I like the way you distinguished between the two. Very true.

Slushpile Slut said...

Hey Tracy! Great post! I, too have fallen off the NaNoWriMo train...I just can't force words out like NaNo requires...Ah well! I'm still walking behind the train even though its way too far ahead for me to catch up :)

Matthew Rush said...

This is a damn good point. I never thought about it so clearly but I totally had this problem for a while. Plot takes a back seat to character in my story as well.

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow- this was a great insightful post. Congrats on figuring out what needs to be done- it sounds like you've got things in perspective!

Candyland said...

Great way to boil it down! I think we tend to over-complicate when we query. And the Old Spice man terrifies me.

Ben said...

Character Vs Plot has been one of these problematics that have held me back for too long. Also, the distinction is very important as to know whether to use a first or a third person POV.

Great post, despite the fact I haven't seen either of the movies :)

Patti said...

That's really good advice. I'm working on my synopsis and I think I'll try that.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

You did a great job of distinguishing between the two, Tracy - great post! Good luck with your newer, stronger query!! :-)

Misty Waters said...

Great post and so helpful!! You consider entering this query letter blogfest. (And maybe follow her, too. She has some great posts.)

On a side note: Ahem. 26 days. I'm thinking about actually driving to Philly for Richelle Mead's book signing because I love her so much:) It's like 4 1/2 hours, but how cool would that be?

Shelley Sly said...

Thank you for making this distinction! I did the same thing with the query for my first book. It's definitely character-driven, but I wrote a plot-based query, which made the actual story sound much less exciting. I'm keeping this in mind for my next query -- thank you!

And I love the Old Spice guy reference. ;)

Pk Hrezo said...

That's a really great point. I can see how that would help with your voice in the query. They're hard to do. I always spend days getting it just right, then after a few I usually change it again.

I'm gonna do my own NaNoQuerMo in January!! Thanks to your idea.

Best of luck!!

Melissa said...

I've never thought of trying to write a query this way. It makes sense that if its character driven novel you need a character driven query... I just never thought of it that way before.

I'll need to keep this in mind for when I start querying!

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