Character-Driven vs. Event-Driven

Posted by Rita Lorraine

Hi Everybody,
It has been awhile since I posted, so I hope everyone’s doing fine. I’ve been working hard on a biography picture book that’s very close to my heart, yet though it’s less than 4,000 words in length, it’s one of the most difficult pieces I’ve written lately.

Why am I having such a hard time? Because I’m telling the story of an old ex-slave whose absolutely amazing life doesn’t quite translate to the page. You see, his life was “event-driven” rather than “character-driven,” and as such, his story translates to a life that is much too passive for my taste.

First let’s define the two terms.

A character-driven story is one that relies on the decisions, actions and emotions of the MC (main character) to advance the plot. it’s all about what the MC wants, dreams about, plans, pursues. The MC lives his/her life, and the reader follows along and observes first-hand how the MC’s actions dictate the unfolding events.

An event-driven story, on the other hand, is one in which the character reacts to the external events and circumstances around him. Those external events can be anything: Other people, natural events, like storms; or man-made situations, like wars. In other words, the character does not inspire the events, but is swept along by the unyielding current of life and reacts to the events as they are presented to him.

That’s my MC; every interview, article and reference I found on him painted him as a man swept along by the erratic currents of 19th century living. He saw wonderful things and met amazing people, but not necessarily because he was more adventurous than most; it was because these things and events just so happened to unfold in his line of vision.

And therein lies the problem! Who wants to read about a man whose life is like a big blob of putty in the firm grip of life? But that was his life; he was born in a tumultuous time, and spent much of his life reacting to the events and people around him. Unfortunately, this makes him much too tame for my taste; much too accepting; much too passive for the dashing life I want to tell others about.

So…what to do, what to do?

That’s why I haven’t posted lately. I’m experimenting with different ways to tell this story with a bit of spice, while keeping the story line as true as it was the day I found it. I want to do my MC justice; I want to portray him in his very best light and revive his story for all the history buffs out there who love to discover an unsung hero. The spice is there, I know it is; I’ll just have to dig deep to find it.

So thanks for continuing to visit this site, even though I haven posted much lately. And thanks for indulging my absence. I have every faith that it’ll pay off in the end.

Best wishes and happy writing,

Rita Lorraine

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