The Subtlety of Character Driven Books

By Anjali Nayak

When I first began reading, I reached for high intensity fantasy and science fiction books. However, over time I have begun to appreciate the subtle nuance of character driven books. A sharp contrast from thrilling and dramatic plot driven books, character driven novels focus on a specific character and their perspective on the surrounding world. The character is often the narrator, usually has a specific niche that makes their thoughts and ideas worth reading. In character driven books, the reader experiences the (often simple) plot through the eyes of the main character.

While plot driven books focus on the external want of a character, the internal dialogue found in character driven books refers to the change a character must make in order to fulfill their external want. For example, Frodo may want to destroy the ring, but the internal change is his realization that he needs Sam in order to complete his journey. A want is known to the character, it drives the plot. But a need is often rejected or unknown.

It’s hard to pull off an obvious want and need distinction. Dostoevsky is an excellent example in writing proactive characters, rather than reactive. Crime and Punishment tells the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a young law student living in abject poverty. Increasingly desperate, Raskolnikov plans to murder and rob an elderly pawnbroker. But the impact of carrying out murder proves to be more than he was prepared for. From dank taverns to dilapidated apartments and claustrophobic police stations, the reader understands the true inner turmoil brooding in Raskolnikov’s consciousness. Although the main character might want to commit premeditated murder (the crime), the internal change is his realization that there is no possible redemption (the punishment), that big dreams do not transcends morals. 

My personal favorite author, Virginia Woolf is brilliant in executing a strong want and need. Mrs. Dalloway is told over the course of a single day when the titular Mrs. Dalloway is throwing a party. Readers delve deep into her mind and memories to find that she is much more than the perfect trophy wife hostess. Throughout the course of the novel, readers understand that one can really never understand another person. All the characters communicate beautiful, profound things to themselves (and by extension, the reader) but can’t express their feelings to each other, especially when it’s tearing them up inside. Not focusing on a single character, Woolf seamlessly jumps from brain to brain, exploring numerous themes and styles. Meeting former friends and lovers, Mrs. Dalloway comes to terms with being human. Dalloway wants to throw a party and move on with her life, but she needs to understand the importance of the past. It’s okay if the past isn’t entirely erased. Every decision one makes has shaped them to be the person they are today. 

In understanding the importance of character driven plots, readers must understand the importance of reading books: t. To learn from others.Unlike While plot centered fiction, character driven books teach cognizance that can be applied to real life. When is it time to grow? How do I know who I am? Such abstract questions are answered in characters and experiences never experienced.