Though my stories are full of voice, they are very plot-driven. I didn't know the difference until I read this blog post by Lisa Cron. It's Part 2 of What Kindergarten Got (and Still Gets) Gets Really, Really Wrong. She asserts that most writers don't know what a story is.
After reading Part 1, I knew immediately that I'm not most writers. I know what a story is. In fact, for years I've taught my children to tell the difference between "a really good picture book" (read: concept book) and a "story picture book." The first test is, "What's the conflict?" If there is no conflict, then there is no story.
BUT I still have a lot to learn.
You see, what I didn't know was the difference between plot-driven stories (with voice) and character-driven stories (which also include voice, but that's another story). That AHA moment came when I read Part 2.
A plot-driven story is when things happen to the characters, and the characters react based on their backgrounds and personalities. The conflict is external.
Traditional fairytales are often plot-driven.
Is there a story here? Absolutely. And many versions also include quite a bit of voice. But at the heart, this story is plot-driven. All the conflicts are external. Cinderella has a mean family. She can't go to the ball because someone won't let her. The solutions, also are external. A fairy godmother takes care of everything. Going to the ball gives Cinderella the opportunity to meet (and fall in love at first sight) with the prince. Even the ending is external - literally like putting on a shoe!
Can this incorrigibly plot-driven story be made into a character-driven one? Well, if you've seen Ever After starring Drew Berrymore, (or read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire) then you know the answer is yes.
A character-driven story is when something happens to a character that changes the way they will react next time. The conflict is internal.
In Ever After, Danielle is the main character of a "believable" version of the Cinderella fairytale. Throughout the movie, Danielle deals with the loss of a family that loved her, and the treatment of a family that doesn't. While longing for true love, Danielle finds the value of true friendship. In the end, Danielle escapes the cruelty of her stepfamily and sets out to make her own happiness.
All elements of the original story are there: the ball, ugly stepmother and stepsisters, glass slippers, and a fairy godmother (well, sort of), but the conflicts and solutions are all about Danielle's journey through life. They are internal.
An excellent example of a character-driven picture book is The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.
SO, I now know something about myself:
I AM A PLOTTER
I'm pretty good at plotlines. The first draft of my stories often look something like this:
And I have to work at it to make it character-driven. What about you? Do you struggle to make your stories more character-driven? Let me know in the comments!
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)