What IS character-driven fiction? If you've been writing more than a week, you've heard that term. Whounderstand what that means? How does an author achieve it, and most importantly why should you--as an author--care?
What: Character-driven fiction is a fictional piece whose plot is propelled forward by the personality of the main characters (my definition).
Who: English professors, seasoned writers and readers understand what it means, though you aren't likely to see someone browsing the B&N shelves looking for the "character-driven" section. Let's focus on the last one. Readers know a character-driven book because they relate to the character. You'll hear them say things such as "Vannetta did an awesome job pulling me into the lives of Miriam, Gabe, and Grace." (Amazon review, A Promise for Miriam). Notice there is no mention of the plot in that review. It's all about the people.
You know what I'm talking about it if you think like a reader. These are the types of books where the "people" stay in your head long after you've read the last page.
How: So how do you do it? How do YOU write character-driven fiction? You allow your character to determine what happens next. (I hear you people who outline grinding your teeth.) Your character's personality is everything to your story, and so he/she has to be someone that we can relate to, someone we are rooting for, and someone that we want to follow through whatever plot twists you've concocted. It's all about the people. Is this someone you could be best friends with? Is this someone you would know if you met them? Is this someone you will miss when you've finished writing? "It makes me want to get in my car, drive to Shipshewana and befriend these women" (Amazon review, A Perfect Square). She wants to meet my characters. I heard this repeatedly from readers--how they yearned for the type of friendship my characters had for one another.
You can create the same attachment between your readers and your characters--regardless of your plot or your genre. The key is in your character, including enough details and back story (not too much--ever have someone tell you their WHOLE life story) to render them real.
Why: We all have our own style, our own tales to tell, and our own writing methods. So why should you be concerned about whether you have a character-driven story? Because you want people to read your story. You want them to read it and the next one and the one after that. You want them to stay up all night seeing what will happen next. They don't do this because of the plot--they do it because they care about the character. "This book had my heart pounding one minute and the next minute I was smiling and giving a little fist pump! The love between family, friends, and how far one is willing go to protect them is captured beautifully." (Destination Amish review, Material Witness). Her heart is not pounding because of my antagonist or my plot, but because someone she cares about is in peril.
You can achieve the same connection between your characters and your readers, but you have to be willing to put a lot on the line--expose more of your character's weaknesses, allow your outline to detour if your character calls for it, and always be sure this character is someone that we would want to tell our friends about.
Vannetta Chapman writes character-driven fiction for Zondervan Press, Harvest House and Abingdon. Her mystery, Falling to Pieces, was recently nominated for a 2012 Carol Award. Chapman lives in the Texas hill country with her husband.
For more information, visit her at
webpage -- www.VannettaChapman.com
blog -- http://vannettachapman.wordpress.com
facebook -- www.facebook.com/VannettaChapmanBooks, and
pinterest -- http://pinterest.com/vannettachapman