Anybody remember the “Big 3” that I posted about a while back? Were you hoping I had forgotten? Sorry to disappoint, but I’m back and I still remember this ridiculous string of posts I started, all about advice on writing. (Can two posts be called a string? I guess it’s 3 now. 3 can be called a string. I guess.)
The big 3 are three ways to drive a story you are telling. One of those ways is with the plot itself. What is a plot driven story? Well, let me take you on the scenic route to my unofficial definition, possibly inaccurate, but it works for me.
It’s not so much about the characters, or the world it’s set in. It’s simply the set of circumstances the characters find themselves mixed up in. A lot of action movies could be considered plot driven stories. If you took two plot driven stories, and switched the main characters, the stories wouldn’t change much. Maybe a few details, like names and stuff, but the story, the beginning, middle, and the end, would all be pretty much the same.
It doesn’t really matter who the main character is. They don’t do a whole lot of soul-searching. The way they view the world or their outlook on life doesn’t change much. (Or if it does, it’s often at the end, where it doesn’t really effect the story much at all.) Especially noticeable in the cheaper action flicks, the characters seem more like cardboard cutouts, caricatures, rather than real people. Stereotypes.
They don’t spend a lot of time exploring the world around them either. Often the characters travel, but only to go to where the bad guys are. Where there is more stuff to blow up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your basic action movie, with cardboard cutout characters, and a semi-generic setting just waiting to be blown up. It can be quite enjoyable. Just sit back and take it in, usually not much subtlety, don’t have to try too hard to understand what’s going on.
I remember reading a lot of Hardy Boys books growing up. Those stories are (from what I remember) largely plot driven. Sure, the two brothers think, deduce, make decisions, and take action. But the large majority of what they do is react to what happens to them. They explore various locations, find secret rooms, hidden caves, what have you. However, it’s usually something the bad guys created, or left behind, or used to their own advantage that the Hardy Boys find or figure out. So it’s not so much the Hardy Boys learning about the world around them, they are simply still reacting to what the story throws at them.
Now, the Hardy Boys never grow up. Their personalities and how they think, while different from each other, don’t change much. The books are largely independent of each other. While some reference earlier adventures, you can pretty much read them in any order you choose. As characters, as people, they never mature, see the world in a new light, or overcome personal obstacles or inner demons.
But who cares? The stories might star the Hardy Boys, but it’s not really about them. It’s about what happens to them. The crazy and mysterious adventures they go on. The life-threatening traps, and how they escape. The devious evil criminals taking advantage of unsuspecting victims, and their ultimate demise and capture, due to the brave and determined Hardy Boys. And their friend Chet. I think his name was Chet. Who wasn’t quite so brave, but he was loyal. I read a lot of those books, and thoroughly enjoyed them.
You might think plot driven stories are simple, maybe even unsophisticated, compared to other types of stories. But if you think about it, most Sherlock Holmes stories are plot driven stories. I’ve read a few Sherlock Holmes stories, and “simple” isn’t the word that comes to mind. Same with Moby Dick, which I mentioned in Part 2.
Don’t think for a moment that a plot driven story can’t have strong, believable characters; or set in a world with depth and detail. Plot driven stories can be intricate and beautiful. It’s all about what the characters are doing. Are they mainly reacting to what is happening to them? Do they often happen to be in right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time)? Then it’s a plot driven story. At least by my definition.
(Come to think of it, by my definition, a lot (but certainly not all) of video games are plot driven stories. The main character (that you are controlling) is simply dealing with what ever is being thrown at them as best they (you) can.)