The Da Vinci Code – Decoding Plot-Driven vs Character-Driven Novels

by Pamela Hegarty

Robert Langdon, literature’s most famous symbologist, is called in to solve a bizarre murder at the beginning of The Da Vinci Code. The murder sets the plot in motion, driving the hero into a race to solve the puzzle before the villains. Certainly, The Da Vinci Code must be a plot-driven novel.

BUT Robert Langdon uses his specialized knowledge to advance to the next step in solving the puzzle, so The Da Vinci Code must be a character-driven novel.

Writers have been arguing the advantages and disadvantages of plot-driven versus character-driven novels since the birth of genre fiction. At a recent workshop, best-selling thriller writer, William Bernhardt, had a different take.

Plot and character must be interwoven for a story to be successful. The character is chosen for the plot. The plot is chosen for the character.

Every scene should have something happening that changes the protagonist’s life. That change, in turn, affects the next plot twist. The character is revealed by how she reacts under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.

So don’t try to define your novel as plot-driven or character-driven. To be successful, it has to be both.

Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code in Pamela Hegarty’s The Seventh Stone, coming out as an e-book on November 7.

The Advantages of a Series Character

By Pamela Hegarty

Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers, offered these insights in a workshop which I attended some time ago:

A series character makes it easier for a reader to buy a book, and sometimes encourages them to buy previous books in the series.

You can’t design a series character to be succesful. Let the character be himself and hope for the best. Don’t worry whether the character will be liked or disliked.

Allow the main character to be a little rugged, a tad dastardly. Many writers use a sidekick to be the tough one so the main character can remain pure. The main character should have those “dark” elements. This can work well with female characters, too.

On character development, Child believes his readers are looking for the same character in different situations. Series characters don’t even have to age. Readers can always count on Jack Reacher. This works well for Jack Reacher, but not for all series characters, like Harry Potter, or Christa Devlin, the main character in my upcoming series, who are altered by the experiences.

But the most important tip Child offered: Be yourself. Close your eyes and jump. Don’t be intimidated.


What Odysseus Taught Me about Character

by Pamela Hegarty

Last Friday, at twilight, I sat in the ancient theater at Epidaurus in Greece, imagining a world of bold heroes fighting seemingly unstoppable monsters, just as those sitting in this same seat before me since the third century BC.  People came to Epidaurus for healing, and theatrical entertainment was part of their healing process.  The story helped them transcend everyday worries, and realize the full potential of the human spirit and endurance, at least for a little while.  The gods’ triumph over the giants reassured that order can trump chaos.  Heroes like Heracles proved that man can be a hero.

Odysseus was the first and the ultimate thriller hero.  Brave, clever, and determined to return to his wife and home, he is willing to endure any hardship to acquire his goal.  His mettle is tested by seductive sirens and one-eyed giants which the gods, like the thriller writer, put in his path to draw out the depths of his strengths and weaknesses.  We want these tales to stretch our imaginations because we’re fighting right alongside Odysseus.

Two thousand years later, thriller readers still enjoy imagining themselves in heroes like Odysseus, and thriller writers can still look to ancient Greece for the key elements of an enduring thriller hero.