Is the story plot-driven? Or is it character-driven? I had no idea which kind of storyteller I was until I started working a writing coach. I just wrote what came to me and didn't think much about the process.
This last week I submitted 4,566 words of my mid-grade reader, Almost a Ghost, to my writing coach, Erin Healy, for critique. Quite short of my goal of 10k, but it’s progress that I am excited about. In my defense, I was at Disney World for a little over a week. (Can we call that market research?)
Erin is positive and does an amazing job tuning into my strengths and giving me direction based on those strengths. For example, in one of our meetings, she determined I was a character-driven writer. The more we talked about it, the more I realized that this was a core aspect of my writing style! This insight because it gives me affirmation and direction. And a much better understanding of how to approach my writing.
And it makes sense. I spend a lot of time creating characters’ profiles before writing. I enjoy talking to them, arguing with them, and placing them in different scenarios. I explore their motivations and emotions, and I love watching them evolve over the course of the story. Sometimes they even take the plot in an unexpected direction.
But there are a few challenges of being a character-driven writer.
I find it difficult to balance character development with plot progression, and I need to work hard to ensure that my stories have a strong narrative arc. Definitely a weakness of mine. Who wants to read about an incredible character without a strong story arc?
I also need to learn to let go of certain plot elements that don't serve my characters' journeys, because while they may be important to me and maybe even the character, they don’t move the story forward.
But even though there are challenges, discovering that I am a character-driven writer has been an incredibly empowering experience. It has allowed me to lean into my strengths as a writer and focus on what I love most about storytelling. While my story seems to unfold in scenes with my characters, rather than in chronological order, I'm confident I will eventually be able to stitch it all together, sit back, and enjoy their journeys.
So, if you’re a writer and unsure if you are plot-driven or character-driven, take some time to self-evaluate. Which do you tend to focus on when you write? What is your strength? And, perhaps even more importantly, which angle makes you the happiest?
Cindy Lynn Sawyer is a KidLit writer with a passion for helping kids to G.L.O.W. from the inside out, and to help other children's writers on their path to publication.