Plot driven stories are just that: stories that are fundamentally about the…wait for it…Story.
The world is going to blow up unless the hero can save it and defeat the evil scientist. The largest diamond in the world has been stolen and the heroine needs to get it back. An island volcano in the Pacific Ocean is primed to blow and destroy half the world. Who or what can stop it? There’s a contagion on the rampage killing off half the world’s population.
All of these stories are plot driven. Something is going to happen ( or already has) and something needs to be done about it. There’s a lot of action, a lot of external maneuvering of the cast of characters, and hopefully a resolution of the problem in the end. There isn’t what you find in character driven stories – namely the deep internal conflicts, the emotional descriptions and the development of internal/external changes of the main characters.
The easiest way for me to remember the difference between character driven and plot driven stories is this way: In character driven stories, the people ( characters ) change. In plot driven stories the outcomes change, such as, potential earth destruction is now world peace.
Okay, that example was a little corny, but appropriate for this discussion.
In romance, plot driven books are usually the old standard lines, called tropes. Tropes are familiar or recurrent themes in stories. For romances, some – but not all – include: Marriage of convenience, a surprise baby, damsel in distress, opposites attract, love triangles. Writer Romy Sommer did a great piece on listing romance tropes in an article from 2012, that you can read by clicking on the link with her name. Suffice it to say that any number of tropes can be categorized as being plot driven. So even in romance, plot can be the motivator for the story.
Before I wrote romance novels I wrote mystery and suspense. These books were totally plot driven. I would come up with the idea first and then get my characters to join in the fun. I always had to keep the ultimate goal in the forefront of my brain, though, because it was too easy to start slipping in the emotions and desires of the characters. I needed to save the world, not the individual characters! Once I made the switch to romantic fiction, I was able to do what I loved doing and wish I could have done with the other books: delve into the characters.
Plot drive books have a lot of action. They need to because SOMETHING needs to propel the book forward and keep you turning the pages. Action adventure movies are typically plot driven. Not a great deal of time or effort is put into developing the characters. Instead, the big money is spent on the special effects and the blowing up of things. By the way, I know that last sentence sounds a little snarky,but it’s not meant to be. I actually enjoy action adventure movies. I just don’t enjoy reading them as much as watching them.
So if you’re basically a plot driven writer, good for you! Keep that action flowing, save the universe and defeat the bad guys. Or, if you’re plot driven and you write romance, make that surprise baby REALLY a surprise – even to the mom! Save that damsel from the international jewel theft ring. Make those two opposite personalities have to marry to save the family business. Just don’t forget that the ultimate goal once you have written all that is for the happily ever after.