Writers and readers (and filmmakers and viewers, for that matter) like to divide stories into two categories: those that are character driven and those that are plot driven. Usually there’s an air of snobbery in this, where the stories that are plot driven are made to seem somehow lacking in the ineffable qualities that make a story great. Character vs. Plot is a common heading to be found in how-to-write books.
My friends, I have had an epiphany. Instead of Character vs. Plot we should be thinking of Character and Plot. A joining conjunction rather than a dividing one. These two story elements are both absolutely essential to any story. All stories are by definition narratives, so stuff has to happen, and it usually has to be interesting or made to seem so. And an audience is really only able to connect with a story if the people in it are interesting or made to seem so. Character and Plot go hand in hand to tell a good story.
Think of a car. (And I don’t know much about cars so this metaphor may fall flat on its face.) In a standard configuration, the rear wheels are the ones that have the actual torque to push the car forward. The front wheels are used for steering. In this metaphor, the rear wheels are Character; things move forward through their actions. The front wheels are Plot; it twists and turns as it takes you places.
And more and more I’m finding that the truly great stories, the ones that last and that I enjoy the most, are running on four-wheel drive.