Article length: 4100 words (preview 1000/wds)
In Defining Genre, we already defined the parent genre, Drama as;
- more serious in tone
- focusing on character arc development and theme
- digging deep into the humanity behind the story
- encompassing not one primary human emotion (as with other genres), but many, or all of them.
In Getting Drama on Point, I gave some practical general tips in establishing drama in any written work. Today, in this first article on the “workings of genre”, we’re going to look more at depth at the parent genre.
Before we get started, let’s digress for a moment;
Character Driven vs. Plot Driven
Read a dozen different blogs on this topic, and you’ll get a dozen different answers on this. Some of them a bit more off than others. The truth is, many folks make it more complicated than it needs to be. After all the answer is literally right in the title.
Here’s the crux of it;
Character driven is just how it sounds, the story is literally, driven by the characters… and when we say the characters, we primarily mean the main character. More specifically, the main character(s) are more often the catalyst for their own problems/obstacles in the story. (The external manifests from their internal.)
Marky Marks Gambler movie is a perfect example that comes to mind. The dude is a gambling addict and as soon as he gets money, he runs to the casino and gambles it all away. When he meets the love interest in the story, his addiction takes priority, he puts it ahead of the girl, and creates a further mess of things. At every turn, his own personal issues manifest into the major problems/obstacles/events of the story.
Contrast this to plot driven, where the source of problems/obstacles are more often initiated outside the realm of the main character’s influence. (The external manifests from the external.)
When Luke is chilling on Tatooine, he’s got nothing to do with Vader capturing Leia. In fact, we can go further back, and say, Luke had nothing to do with being born as Vader’s son. These external problems/obstacles/events arrive irregardless of the problems Luke faces as a person.
So in a character driven story, the character makes a mess of things, then has to deal with his mess. In a plot driven story, life makes a mess of things and the character has to deal with the mess. Notice there is always a mess… and we get to see the character’s internal struggle whichever way conflict arises.
In both of the definitions, I specifically use the term “more often” because the truth is much of fiction is both character driven, and plot driven at the same time. Meaning at times the characters are driving the bus, other times, the plot is.
We only “define” stories as character driven or plot driven, when the clear majority of bus driving is done by one or the other.
While we could analyze this topic further, producing more specific rules for every possible version of story, the amount of fiction outside this presented definition of character driven vs. plot driven is pretty small. It pays, to keep it simple.
Before we get back to all the points we’re going to discuss about writing the Drama, note that by understanding the difference between these two approaches to story, we can apply this focus to one specific area for big results;
Make KEY TURNS your character’s fault
- The 1st Act Turn
- The Midpoint Turn
- The 2nd Act Turn
While it’s not 100% required to do this to create an effective story, (again, you can let the plot drive the bus at times) anchoring these three key turns of the story, to your character (or more specifically your character’s flaw), instead of some outside forces, will push the story deep into Drama territory.
Ok, so now that we have a clearer idea of character driven vs. plot driven, let’s get back to it.
First and foremost, writing the drama is about characters and their relationships.
This may sound obvious.
And of course, to some degree, all writing is about the characters and their relationships. But where other genres may take advantage of characters and their relationships, for the drama, it is the primary vehicle of the story.
It is, after all, certainly plausible to enjoy the spectacle script, for the thing(s) it makes a spectacle of; watching a boxing movie for the boxing, a kung-fu flick for the kung-fu, and a war movie for the clash of heavy weaponry, none of these movies outside the drama genre require an in-depth understanding of what personal sacrifices the boxer made, what personal demons the martial artist struggles with, or how the soldier manning the 50 caliber gets along with his drunkard brother.