Forget chasing the plot — it’s time to let the characters take the wheel in storytelling.
Here is how to write a character driven story:
Write a character-driven story by focusing on characters’ internal journeys, emotions, and growth. Create complex characters with detailed backstories, explore their emotional landscapes, and let their personal transformations guide the plot. Character choices should drive the story.
In this guide, I’m exposing all of my secrets for how to write a character driven story.
What Is a Character Driven Story?
A character-driven story is a narrative where the primary focus is on the characters’ internal journey, development, and transformation.
Unlike plot-driven narratives where the sequence of events shapes the story, character-driven tales delve into the emotional and psychological landscapes of the characters.
The plot is a vehicle for character change and growth.
This approach creates a more intimate and relatable experience for the reader, as it mirrors the complexity of human experience.
Character-driven stories often feel more organic and realistic.
They explore themes like personal struggle, relationships, and self-discovery.
The protagonist’s choices, dilemmas, and development drive the narrative forward, making the reader invested in their journey and growth.
Types of Character Driven Stories
Character-driven stories come in various forms, each offering a unique lens to explore the depths of human experience.
Here are seven types:
- The Coming of Age Story: This type focuses on the protagonist’s transition from youth to adulthood. It explores themes of self-discovery, first experiences, and the loss of innocence.
- The Redemption Arc: Here, the central character undergoes a transformation from a negative or flawed state to a more positive one, often involving moral or personal redemption.
- The Internal Conflict Story: This type delves into the character’s inner struggles, often involving themes of identity, morality, or personal beliefs.
- The Relationship-Centric Story: It centers around the dynamics of relationships, whether romantic, familial, or platonic, highlighting the character’s growth through these interactions.
- The Psychological Journey: These stories explore the character’s mental and emotional state, often delving into psychological challenges or disorders.
- The Self-Discovery Quest: Here, the character embarks on a journey that leads to significant self-awareness, understanding, or acceptance.
- The Moral Dilemma: This type places the character in situations where they must make difficult decisions, often involving a clash of moral values or ethical choices.
17 Best Tips for Writing a Character Driven Story
Writing a character-driven story requires a nuanced approach, focusing on the depths and layers of your characters.
Here are my 17 best tips to enhance your storytelling, each with a creative name to resonate with the character-driven theme.
As a writer who’s ventured through the maze of character development, I’ve learned the art of giving life to fictional personas that captivate readers’ hearts.
Therefore, these tips go beyond the usual advice, delving into the subtleties of character development and narrative crafting.
1. Mirror of Memories
Use the character’s past experiences as a mirror to reflect their present actions and decisions.
This technique adds depth, making their current choices and behaviors more meaningful and relatable.
It helps in revealing their motivations, fears, and desires gradually.
Example: In your story, a character who is hesitant to trust others may have a backstory of betrayal, influencing their current interactions and decisions.
2. Emotional Echoes
Let your character’s emotions resonate throughout the story.
Don’t just state their feelings; show how these emotions echo in their actions, thoughts, and dialogue.
This approach allows readers to deeply connect with the characters and understand their internal struggles.
Example: A character feeling grief could display subtle signs like avoiding certain places that remind them of their loss, or finding comfort in small, seemingly insignificant objects.
3. Silent Conversations
Utilize non-verbal communication to convey your character’s inner state.
Body language, facial expressions, and even silences can speak volumes about what your character is experiencing internally.
Example: A character’s inner turmoil can be shown through clenched fists during a confrontation or averted eyes when lying.
4. Dreams and Nightmares
Incorporate your character’s dreams or nightmares as a symbolic representation of their hopes, fears, and subconscious thoughts.
This not only adds layers to your character but also creates an intriguing narrative element.
Example: A character’s recurring dream about being lost in a forest might symbolize their fear of the unknown or feeling of being directionless in life.
5. Shadows of Self-Doubt
Explanation: Explore the character’s self-doubt. It makes them more human and relatable.
Show how these doubts shape their decisions, relationships, and their journey towards overcoming or succumbing to them.
Example: A confident leader in your story might internally struggle with imposter syndrome, affecting their decision-making in critical moments.
6. Whispers of the World
Let the character’s environment subtly influence their development.
The setting, culture, and societal norms can have a profound impact on shaping your character’s beliefs and actions.
Example: A character raised in a dystopian society might have a skewed sense of morality, which they start to question as they encounter different worldviews.
7. Echoes of Others
Explanation: Use secondary characters as mirrors or contrasts to your main character.
Their interactions can highlight aspects of your main character’s personality, beliefs, and growth.
Example: A secondary character’s carefree attitude could highlight the main character’s overly cautious nature and prompt them to take risks.
8. Invisible Burdens
Give your character unseen challenges, like internal conflicts or secret struggles.
These hidden burdens add complexity and give the character a multi-dimensional feel.
Example: A character might be battling a silent health issue, influencing their life choices and interactions, yet it’s not immediately apparent to others in the story.
9. Flickers of Change
Show gradual character development.
Instead of abrupt changes, let your character evolve subtly through the story, making their transformation believable and compelling.
Example: A shy character might slowly become more assertive, initially through small acts like voicing their opinion in a group.
10. Tapestry of Traits
Weave a complex tapestry of traits for your character.
Combine strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and contradictions to create a character that is as multifaceted as a real person.
Example: A character might be highly intelligent but socially awkward, excelling in their professional life while struggling in personal relationships.
11. Ripples of Relationships
Explanation: Explore how relationships affect and transform your character.
Every interaction should have the potential to reveal something new about them or change them in some way.
Example: A character’s relationship with a mentor can evolve from admiration to rivalry, reflecting their growth and changing perspectives.
12. Palette of Perspectives
Show different facets of your character through varying perspectives.
How they are viewed by others can provide a fuller picture of their personality and growth.
Example: The main character may seem heroic to some but flawed or even villainous from another character’s perspective.
13. Symphony of Struggles
Integrate a range of struggles, both external and internal, that your character faces.
This creates a symphony of conflicts that keeps the story dynamic and engaging.
Example: Your protagonist might be battling societal norms (external struggle) while also dealing with self-esteem issues (internal struggle), providing a rich narrative of conflict and resolution.
14. Chronicle of Choices
Focus on the choices your character makes and the consequences that follow.
These decisions, whether monumental or mundane, should reveal their priorities, values, and character growth.
This approach emphasizes the agency of your character in shaping their story and underscores the complexity of human decision-making.
Example: A character deciding to protect a friend at personal cost can reveal their loyalty and moral compass, impacting their journey and relationships.
15. Whirlwind of Words
Pay attention to your character’s dialogue and internal monologue.
How they speak, what they say, and what they don’t say can provide deep insights into their psyche.
The choice of words, tone, and even speech patterns can reflect their background, personality, and current emotional state.
Example: A character who speaks in short, clipped sentences might be hiding their true feelings, or one who uses elaborate language could be trying to mask their insecurities.
16. Mosaic of Motivations
Unpack your character’s motivations, both conscious and subconscious.
Understanding why they act the way they do adds depth and credibility to their actions.
This exploration should reveal the complexities of human motivation, showing how it can be multifaceted and sometimes even contradictory.
Example: A character might strive for success to prove their worth to a dismissive parent, a motivation that drives both their achievements and their personal conflicts.
17. Canvas of Change
Illustrate how your character changes throughout the story, not just in terms of their actions but also in their beliefs, attitudes, and understanding of the world.
This transformation should be a result of the experiences they go through in the story, making it a believable and satisfying arc.
Example: A character who starts off as cynical and isolated might gradually open up and learn to trust, influenced by the kindness and challenges they encounter.
Here is a good video about how to write a character driven story:
Plot Driven Story Vs. Character Driven Story: What’s the Difference?
Understanding the difference between plot-driven and character-driven stories is crucial for any writer.
It shapes how you approach your narrative and what you emphasize in your storytelling.
|Plot Driven Story
|Character Driven Story
|The sequence of events and actions
|The inner journey and development of characters
|The plot guides the characters
|The characters’ choices and transformations guide the plot
|Often fast-paced with numerous events
|Can be slower, delving into characters’ thoughts and feelings
|On what happens next
|On why things happen and how they affect the characters
|Resolution of a central conflict or achievement of a specific task
|Personal growth or understanding of the characters
|Sometimes secondary to the plot
|Central to the narrative
|Through suspense and excitement
|Through emotional connection and relatability
In a plot-driven story, the primary focus is on the unfolding events and the external world.
The characters often react to the situations they’re put in, and their development, while present, is not the central focus.
These stories are typically high in action and suspense, with the plot’s twists and turns driving the reader’s interest.
Conversely, in a character-driven story, the emphasis is on the characters’ internal experiences, emotions, and transformations.
The plot serves as a backdrop for exploring these elements.
These stories are more about the characters’ emotional journey and personal growth.
They offer a deeper exploration of human nature and motivations.
The engagement here is more on an emotional level, as readers become invested in the characters’ personal challenges and developments.
How Do You Know If You’ve Written a Character-Driven Story?
Recognizing whether your story is character-driven involves reflecting on several key aspects:
- Character Arcs: Are the main arcs in your story about the characters’ internal changes and growth? If your story focuses more on how events change the characters rather than the events themselves, it’s likely character-driven.
- Driving Force: Consider what moves your story forward. Is it the characters’ decisions, dilemmas, and personal growth, or is it the external events and actions?
- Emotional Depth: Does your story delve deeply into the characters’ emotions, thoughts, and motivations? Character-driven stories often have a rich tapestry of emotional exploration.
- Resolution: Look at how your story concludes. Is the climax more about the resolution of an internal conflict or understanding within a character rather than an external event or conflict?
- Reader Engagement: Think about what you expect your readers to connect with. Is it the thrill of what happens next, or is it the journey and development of your characters?
- Character Focus: Are your characters more than just tools to move the plot forward? In character-driven stories, characters are multi-dimensional, with detailed backstories, personalities, and development.
- Pace and Structure: Character-driven stories often have a different pacing and structure, focusing more on moments of internal conflict and decision-making rather than fast-paced action sequences.
Character Driven Story Examples (Books and Movies)
Character-driven stories are a staple in both literature and cinema, providing audiences with deep, introspective journeys into the lives and minds of compelling characters.
Here are some notable examples from both books and movies:
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This classic novel is driven by the moral growth and perception changes of its characters, particularly Scout, in a racially divided Southern town.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Centered around the teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield, this book delves into his internal struggles and quest for identity.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Focused on the character of Elizabeth Bennet, this novel explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, and marriage in the society of the British Regency era.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Offers a look into the complexities of Jay Gatsby’s character, his obsession, and the American Dream.
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This story revolves around the titular character, Ove, and his interactions that gradually reveal his past, personality, and heart.
- Forrest Gump: The film’s focus is on the life and experiences of Forrest Gump, his personality, and his perspective on the events he inadvertently influences.
- The Shawshank Redemption: A profound exploration of the characters Andy Dufresne and Red, focusing on their development and friendship in the confines of a prison.
- Lost in Translation: Revolves around the characters of Bob and Charlotte, exploring their fleeting but deep connection in a foreign land.
- Amélie: A charming tale centered on Amélie Poulain, a young woman A charming tale centered on Amélie Poulain, a young woman that chooses to make the lives of others around her happier and better.
- Little Miss Sunshine: Focuses on the Hoover family, particularly Olive, exploring the family dynamics and personal growth of each member during a road trip.
These examples showcase how character-driven stories captivate audiences by providing a window into the characters’ minds and hearts, leading to a deeply personal and often transformative experience.
Character Driven Plot Outline
Creating a character-driven plot outline involves focusing on the characters’ internal journey as much as, if not more than, the external events.
Here’s a basic structure you can follow:
1. Introduction of the Main Character
- Establish the character’s current situation, personality, and initial mindset.
- Introduce their immediate world, relationships, and perhaps hint at their internal conflicts or desires.
2. Inciting Incident
- Present an event or realization that disrupts the character’s normal life.
- This incident should challenge their beliefs, desires, or status quo, setting them on a path of internal exploration or change.
3. Development Through Relationships and Events
- Show how the character interacts with others and how these relationships impact their growth.
- Include events that push the character to confront their internal struggles or fears.
4. Moments of Internal Conflict
- Highlight scenes where the character grapples with their internal dilemmas.
- These can be moral choices, emotional struggles, or challenges to their identity or beliefs.
5. Climax of the Internal Journey
- Lead to a pivotal moment where the character faces their greatest internal challenge.
- This is often a moment of deep self-realization or decision that epitomizes their character development.
6. Resolution and Transformation
- Show the outcome of the climax and how it resolves the character’s internal journey.
- Highlight the transformation or growth of the character, showing how they have changed from the beginning.
- Wrap up loose ends in the story, showing the new status quo.
- The conclusion should reflect the journey’s impact on the character and possibly set a tone for their future.
Final Thoughts: How to Write a Character Driven Story
Like the characters in our stories, let’s continue to grow and explore – for more tales and tips, check out the other articles on our site.
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