Character-driven vs. Plot-driven: ‘Can’t We Just Have Both?’—A List
One of the discussions in the book community that I’ve noticed a lot in recent years is the divide between character-driven and plot-driven stories, and the varying preferences of readers split between the two.
As an avid fan of storytelling, I take this discussion as an interesting look into the many ways a story can be written and told. Admittedly, ever since I’ve seen those conversations pop up, I’ve also subconsciously been keeping tabs on the books I read, tracing which categories they fall under.
This or That
Now, if you had clicked on this post asking yourself “what the heck is the difference?“ let me try my best to explain. As a result of one Google search, the internet told me this: Character-driven stories focus on the development and growth of its characters, the relationship between them, and how their decisions affect the overall turn of events. While Plot-driven narratives put more emphasis on external conflict, plot twists, and other seemingly uncontrollable factors thrown at the world and its characters.
Upon personal reflection, I think I can whole-heartedly say that I’m a reader who gravitates more towards character-building stories, although I need a solid plot to keep me going as well! Which is maybe why I read a lot of Young Adult Fantasy , as these stories usually have more fleshed-out characterizations with immersive world-building and compelling points of conflict.
So I thought of sharing some of my favorite books that I think balance character and plot really well. You guys will see me talk a lot about these two elements on my reviews and recommendations, so might as well put my cards on the table and let you know up front which titles fill my satisfaction meter! (Lol, I am such a nerd over these things )
1. Mistborn (Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson)
I’m starting off the list with one that I think most people would agree with, and that’s the brilliant Mistborn trilogy by mastermind Brandon Sanderson. These books introduce such an interesting magic system, a cast of compelling (and sometimes questionable) characters, amidst the background of a dark and powerful empire leeching off of the oppression its poor citizens face everyday.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but just the first book already feels like a trilogy with everything the plot presents to its readers. The main characters, Vin and Kelsier, have such an interesting mentor-mentee dynamic, and their character development throughout the stories is a wild ride, to say the least. Especially for Vin. Couldn’t recommend this enough, especially for more high fantasy readers!
2. An Ember in the Ashes (Series by Sabaa Tahir)
I’d say that this is a lot more Young Adult than the first entry on the list, and a lot more friendly for readers who want to delve into rich fantasy worlds without the overwhelming size of a Brandon Sanderson book.
This story in particular follows a rebel slave and a soldier-in-training in another dark, dark world where neither of them feels like they have any choice in the course of their lives. Both slave and soldier want to escape the horrors of Blackcliff school, but fate has other ideas. The character development here is so well fleshed out, while the plot itself just continues to thicken and thicken as more books are added to the series (the fourth one comes out in December 2020!). This is definitely one of my all-time favorites!
3. A Court of Thorns and Roses (Series by Sarah J. Maas)
Sarah J. Maas is also a well-known author in the world of YA Fantasy, and rightfully so as she’s written some of the most beloved characters in the fae world. The thing about her books, though, is you either love it or you don’t. There are a lot of videos on BookTube that talk about this particular series, some good and some bad. So fair warning on that, but this series is honestly one of my top faves.
This story follows a mortal, Feyre, who finds herself entangled in the world of fae politics after unknowingly killing one of the High Lord’s royal guards. This leans a bit more towards character-driven as it’s written solely in the POV of Feyre, but the plot also takes some unexpected twists and turns outside Feyre’s own actions and motivations. There are some Beauty and the Beast themes in the first book as well, but it effectively branches out after Act Three and the following novels.
4. Keeper of the Lost Cities (Series by Shannon Messenger)
Okay, I cheated. This one’s more Middle Grade, BUT as the kids age up in each book, it progressively tackles more mature themes as we move forward. Think magic school, kids learning how to hone their powers, being exposed to this new world, and seeing each character grow up as the plot continues to get even more complicated. I’m sure you’re thinking of another incredibly successful franchise with The Boy Who Lived, and though that will always hold a special place in our hearts, it’s time to go on an entirely new adventure with Sophie the Telepath.
5. Three Dark Crowns (Series by Kendare Blake)
This is another incredibly dark world with a plot that’s unafraid to push the boundaries forward, especially when it comes to its characters. The series follows princess triplets as they approach their sixteenth birthday, where they’re expected to kill off one another for the throne, as mandated by centuries of tradition in the island of Fennbirn. Each sister is adopted by the most respectable families in each faction depending on their own inhabited magic: one naturalist, one elemental, and one poisoner. We step into the mind of each sister as they grapple with their magic, the island’s expectations, and the impending need to kill off their sisters, or die as sacrifice to the throne.
So that’s five for now! I hope this list helps you with your venture on what to pick up next, especially if you’re the same as me and you value good characterization matched with a jam-packed plot line.
But I wanna know what you guys think!
- What books do you think balance plot and characterization really well?
- Do you agree with my list?
- Anything you think doesn’t fit the criteria?