Kinds of Storytelling
Plot vs Character Driven Stories
So we are starting a new series based on identifying whether projects are character driven or plot driven and what that means. So let's start with character driven stories. Now I have not been shy about my opinion on which kind of storytelling is better, it's character driven stories. They feel more natural and organic and the story never has to be forced.
First of all, what makes a story character driven? Character driven stories follow the characters choices and that develops the plot. Their growth and relationships are what drive the narrative. There aren’t specific plot things that need to happen and the story is entirely based on who our main character is and how they interact with the world around them. This often leads in a television format to each season feeling slightly different because it's following the main character's growth. We are going to talk about shows that do this really well, I will try to find ones that do it poorly as well. But I try not to rewatch bad TV, that said that's why shows that could be considered narratively questionable with more ridiculous storylines are great character driven stories like One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl.
Now it's not just up to the main character, often with Television shows we have what's called ensemble casts which means we follow the journey’s of several characters. All of their choices are important though the ones that could be considered more side characters, their choices aren’t going to have as big of a last effect or as big of an impact on the other characters around them. It's a little harder with films because you don’t have as much time to explore a ton of characters, however you can have ensemble or buddy films that are character driven. Think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or Thelma and Louis. They are far more rare than ensemble cast TV shows.
A plot driven story is much harder to do well. It often leads to underdeveloped characters that have to betray themselves and their personalities and all of their characteristics to make the plot work. Now there are shows that do this well and normally they are what we call Monster of the Week shows so there is an overarching plot for the season and each episode has it's own mini-plot or “monster” because shows like Smallville, Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer used this format. They still focus a lot on character development but it becomes a bonus part of the story as opposed to the driving factor.
A plot driven story also gives us way less insight on what our characters are feeling. We don’t really get to see how the plot and things that are happening to them are affecting them in any way. It also very much feels like the plot is happening to them instead of with them. Now like I said there are good examples of plot driven stories, Lord of the Rings for example is undeniably plot driven, that said it's one of the greatest pieces of media in any form. But more often than not these stories don’t have as much connection, as much heart or relatability as character driven stories.
Now plot driven stories are far more common when discussing a film format because of the set amount of time, and TV shows are better for character driven stories because of the longevity allowed. When talking about this it is important to consider format as well.
So I am going to rewatch some of my favorite shows and analyze what kind of story they are and why, and hopefully make a pretty solid argument for character driven stories. If you have any show suggestions for me, leave a comment and let me know!
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