2007-06-17

Character or Plot Driven?

It seems like the shows most popular to watch and the books most popular to read are plot driven. Like an episode of 24, the characters are merely players, reacting to a series of events. We learn about the characters by their response to situations rather than their internal motivations. In fact, their motivations may be entirely unknown, and, though interesting, not entirely relevant to understanding the story.

It's for this reason -- this lack of depth -- that plot driven novels and programming are lambasted by critics, and we, as the consumers of such media, are likewise criticized. Is this criticism warranted? I think yes, and the reason why is because our lives themselves have come plot instead of character driven.

When was the last time you did something simply because you wanted to do it -- something that no external force dictated or required? Does your work satisfy your character, or merely the physical requirements of your existence? Are the other people in your life flat characters that act as props, or are your story and theirs interconnected beyond common events?

It may seem like my expectations are unreasonably high, but the reality is that it is human nature to stick to the plot driven. It's significantly less complicated and still very satisfying. To make the commitment to leading a character driven life is actually much more complicated than it seems, and I am in need of it more than anyone.

What is the character driven life?
  1. Who you want to be (your character) drives the things you do, the things you study, the people you associate with, and how you spend your free time.
  2. When you do find yourself in a situation, of your own making or not, your response is a conscious product of your character, not merely a reaction.
  3. You realize that the people who play different acts of your life are also characters in their own right. Regardless of how well you think you've figured them out and want to reduce them to plot elements, you give them the benefit of the doubt.
So, that said, sometimes it's fine to get just read a Clancy novel.