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Character Driven Stories

April 21, 2014

If you find fiction devoid of action, suspense, mystery, horror, comedy or even history, boring; a much more character driven story might not be your complete cup of tea. Still, does not all fiction need realistic or relatable characters that the reader will care about, to succeed? To me, characters are key.

Character driven is the thing. Characters and what drives them. Characters driving the story forward.

People and their relationships are real humane stuff of life and living. Well, perhaps not always humane. But, human.

While there might be some romantic comedy, tension or mystery in a character-focused or relationship piece, it’s not quite the same as a roaring comedy, a suspense thriller or a murder mystery.

An incurable romantic from my beginning (though not a pure romance fiction aficionado), romantically-inclined character-driven relationship prose is most definitely my preferred cuppa: to read and to write. In reference to my novels, beware those who abhor romantic elements altogether. I do tend to enjoy a touch of romance: a thread, two or few, as opposed to just.

It’s all about people, their foibles, strengths, and their life inter-relationships, both in friendships and romantically. Although I enjoy a strong thread of romance weaving in and out of the story tapestry, and especially winding up the happy ending; the character details and relationships are so much more my slice of pie. People pie? It’s about people. Enduring characteristics, for stories that endure.

People are people, and there are simply elements of the human condition that speak to most anyone across lands, oceans and throughout time. A character driven story can touch hearts and minds in many cultures. At least in civilized ones. And character driven stories can become classics over time.

All this speaks to why Jane Austen so deeply reaches me with her works, and why my own fictional writing is so inspired by hers. No, I do not profess to be the sarcastic wit genius that she was. Indeed, I rarely pull off witty. Being a fairly serious person, I never planned to write anything funny. I might have my flashes of wit  or humor amongst family and friends, but I never thought I could keep any wit up long enough to write anything extendedly funny. A novel length comedy? Me? No. I didn’t think so.

The few ‘comedies’ that I have apparently written, as my readers have alerted me to, might be my personal favorites amid my own fiction, because I’m much more likely to write drama or maybe even melodrama in the vein of the Brontes (who’s novels are also character driven). There again, I don’t claim to reach the literary heights of those three sisters, but I do tend to be a more, shall I say, dramatic person. Passionate. Still, with at least some sense of humor. In my three romantically inclined comedies (or dramedies?) thus far, my humorous muse was with me all the way through. She woke me up in the night with fun bits and pieces that I jotted down and later pieced together. What a humorous surprise those were for me.

But back to Jane Austen and her character driven novels for a moment or so. It is the people and relationship elements, as much or more than her darling wit and lively sarcasm (not to mention the romance), that keeps me reading her stories over and again. I care about the characters and what drives them. Even the lesser or side characters. And through Jane Austen’s characters, I’ve learned more about myself and others, as well as found comfort in all the character revelations and experiences. There is common ground. Experience in common. Relatable moments and feelings. I find myself referring to Austen’s characters to explain or comprehend people I know. Because of dearest, loveliest Jane, I know people around me better than I did in my life before Austen. This is really why Jane Austen calls me back to her books. And I believe that the character driven elements of her novels are why they are still so successful after all these couple hundred years.

All this reminds me of why I love Agatha Christie novels as well. Beyond her enjoyable writing style, it is the characters, what drives them, and how they drive the story, that takes me back to those cozy mysteries. It’s not so much the mysteries, but the characters. I would say that Monsieur Poirot and Miss Marple give their understandings of human nature, even as they each share their cute and unique characters with readers, because of Agatha Christie and her character driven tendencies. Agatha Christie understood people. She wrote about people. The good, the bad and the ugly.

And then there is Dickens. Need I say more about Charles Dickens’ characteristic characters and caricatures? If you’ve read Dickens, you know.

And it is the character driven elements, or the lack thereof, that keeps me from reading or rereading so many other works of prose like I might otherwise. I strive to write character driven prose. No, I’m compelled to do it. Characters and what they are made of. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see more character piece prose all around us. It’s about the people, people.

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