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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tracking the Physical and the Non-Physical

There are authors who say that there's no such thing as a plot driven story, since at the heart of every story is a character through whom we witness the story unfold. So, effectively, all stories are character driven at varying degrees.

In my book, a plot-driven story is one where there is an obvious focus on physical events. While there may be character development, the resolution of the story is greatly dependent on completion of physical tasks. A character-driven story, on the other hand, has stronger focus on what's going on in the characters' minds. There are physical aspects involved, yes, but the course of the story is dependent on the characters' personality and the emotional risks they take.

Let's look at the diagram below:

In my previous post, I mentioned that every story can be broken down into a series of events connected by a pivot, with each event seeking to "raise the stakes." If it were a diagram, it would look like that shown in Figure A. (click to enlarge)

In Figure A, a story Event has to result in a change of circumstance, whether physical, non-physical or both. In effect, the Event that follows begins with a new set of givens, as depicted in Figure B. This Event-Picot chain continues throughout the story, reinforcing or altering circumstances, building upon one another.

Now Events don't change everything. They either change the environment (what's happening around a character), the character's physical circumstances (e.g. injury, loss of money, gaining of property, relocation, etc.), or non-physical circumstances (relfection, sadness, anger, insanity, loneliness, exuberation, positive outlook, etc.). This is shown in Figure C.

Given this set-up, a plot-driven story is one where the Pivots more often directly affect the environment and the character's physical circumstances. In a character-driven story, the Pivots take more potshots at the non-physical circumstances.

Now, here's the punchline. The Event-Pivot setup in Figure A can be seen as two panels of a comics story. In fact, you can conceivably do a very rough draft of your plot by drawing and writing each event in two panels--the first being the Event itself and the next being the result of that Event as the Pivot. When you do this, it's possible for you to track the physical and non-physical journey of the story, and ensure that each journey reaches a sensible and satisfying ending.

What's important to note is that an Event can be great or small. Even as small as waking up late in the morning. What makes an Event worth stressing is not its scale, but its impact.

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