Discussion: Character-Driven Novels

Discussion Character Driven Novels

Today I want to discuss character-driven novels. I just finished another very character-driven book yesterday, and, honestly, I kind of hated it. (My review will be up tomorrow.) It got me thinking though. Do people really enjoy character-driven novels? According to this Goodreads list of Popular Character Driven Books, I have read and liked many character-driven novels, but I think it’s only because they also had a decent amount of plot action.

The way I see it, an author can paint a picture with their words, tell a story with those words, or, ideally, do both. I just don’t get character-driven novels. Sure, I like getting to know the characters in a book, but I don’t really care about the characters unless something is happening to them in the present or unless they’re doing something. If I want to look at a snapshot of someone’s life, I’ll look at a painting. Seriously, I read to experience things, not to just peer into another person’s mind or life. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy being inside of a character’s head, but I want something to happen in the story. I want just that…an actual story.

I know some of you enjoy character-driven novels, so I guess what I’m asking today is for you to please explain it to me. Why do you enjoy these types of books? What draws you to books that are almost entirely characterization with minimal plot action?

I read reviews and hear wonderful things about certain books, and then I read them, and I am completely stunned. Is it just me? I feel like I am missing out somehow by not finding these character-driven novels to be delightful or inspiring or whatever other adjective I have heard them described as. Am I just too left brain to get it? Please help me out.

Do you enjoy character-driven novels? What do you like about them?

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  1. I’m with you – sometimes I enjoy character-driven novels, but mostly I don’t. I like getting to know the characters I’m reading about, but only to a certain extent. At the risk of sounding shallow, sometimes I wonder what the point of those types of novels are. If I’m reading a story, I want there to be something happening, or else I may as well be reading a case study in a psychology textbook.
    Angela recently posted…“Waiting on” Wednesday: FaithfulMy Profile

    1. Yes! Thank you. I’m so glad I am not the only one. I feel exactly the same way. I am really hoping someone can explain the appeal because I just don’t get it. I need action! 🙂

  2. Good topic! I don’t actively seek out character driven novels, but I have found myself liking some of them. I loved The Casual Vacancy, which is so character driven. It felt tedious at times, but by the end I was completely wrapped up in it and then ultimately so devastated by the ending that I was in tears as I finished it. I do think the reason I reacted so strongly was because I got to know the characters so, so well – such a heartbreaking story!

    1. I think J.K. Rowlings’ strong suit is character development (and world building), and that’s why the Harry Potter and Cormona Strike series work so well for me. But The Casual Vacancy was a chore to get through because it was SO much character development without the plots from multiple books to balance it out. I agree that I cared about the characters by the end, but it seemed like a lot of effort put in on my part for one book. I literally kept notes of all of the characters for that book. It was rather exhausting.

  3. This is a really interesting topic. I think you’ve mentioned this to me before…

    I agree with you for the most part! Sometimes I don’t mind “slice of life” novels that focus on a character and what’s happening at that time – the books that focus more on the person and less on the plot – but only if I like the character A LOT. I’m trying to think of a good example but it’s escaping me right now.

    I don’t necessarily have to like the character(s) if the plot is interesting, but it’s hard to read a character-driven novel if you don’t like the character.
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    1. Oh good point! I am relistening to Say What You Will right now by Cammie McGovern, and I think you could say that it’s character-driven, but you’re right, I like the characters a lot. In Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, which I referenced in this post, I thought both main characters were self-indulgent and spoiled, and I didn’t care about them at all. I agree with you. That distinction matters.

  4. I don’t think I would love a book that consists completely of a character just thinking and going through their days. I love character growth, but something needs to happen to help that growth along. The book that comes to my mind is The Book Thief. It has a lot of pondering on the part of the narrator and focuses on the thoughts and emotions of the main character, but they all go through important events that drive their developments.
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