I have heard that editors and publishers prefer character driven fiction, where the characters grow and learn, rather than plot driven ones. Is there any truth to this?

Edit: In response to comments: The reason for asking this question was, because I have read far too many articles by "Professor" types who shouted loudly that if you want to be successful, spend a lot of time on character development. I wanted to be sure if there was any truth to this, or is this a "fact" that became true by constant repetition?

  • This question is hard to answer without better definitions and a more substantial rumor. Where did you hear this? What was the context? How reliable is the source? As for definitions - most popular novels have strong elements of both character and plot. Admittedly, sometimes one is a vehicle for the other, but that can easily go either way. So I'm not really sure what you're asking here... :-/
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 10:44
  • @Standback - its a statement Ive read in blogs, books, repeated far too many times to make an impression on me, though I cant remember any particular source. As for the question, it is as the title says: Are books that lay more stress on character development more successful than ones that lay stress on plot? Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 11:44
  • Well, I've never seen an ad hominem attack here yet :) Might help ground the conversation a little. It's really hard to measure the "relative stress" on character vs. plot in a given book, and it's not exactly a regular installment in book reviews, etc. Perhaps the question has some bearing on a concrete issue you're presently facing with your own writing?
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 11:49
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    @Standback, I asked the question because I had read far too many articles by "Professor" types who shouted loudly that if you want to be successful, spend a lot of time on character development. :) But as JSBangs answer below shows, this depends more on genre. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


I'm inclined to say no, in that any answer will depend entirely on the genre that you're writing in.

In some genres, such as techno-thrillers, many mysteries, and many subgenres of SF, plot-driven stories are the norm, and character development is allowed to be minimal. In other genres, especially literary fiction, character-driven stories are the norm, and a heavily plotted story may actually be looked down on. This depends entirely on the expectations of your audience, and any editor worth his salt knows this.

That being said, even if you're writing in a very plot-heavy genre, your book will rarely suffer if you spend a little more time to develop the characters and maybe throw in some personal growth.


I think in the past, publishers tended to stick with character driven works because those were the ones that ended up winning the awards and garnering attention. However, when you look at sheer volume in sales, those weren't always at the top.

I also believe that today's readers are looking for more from their books. There's no doubt that they want to be able to relate to the characters, but they definitely want there to be some kind of action going on. If the characters aren't involved in doing something meaningful or adventurous, then you start to lose your readers.

  • True Steven. Its the old struggle with critics telling us what we should "like" because it meets their definition of high brow; while the rest of humanity that reads books or watches movies just to be entertained. Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 10:37

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