Character vs. Plot: Which Holds the Key to Success?

Screenwriting at at typewriter

In the vast world of screenwriting, a timeless and contentious debate continues to ignite fervent discussions: Which is more important, characters or plot? This age-old question has perplexed and divided writers, filmmakers, and critics for generations. On one hand, compelling characters can breathe life into any story, creating an emotional connection with the audience. On the other hand, an intricately woven plot can keep viewers on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating each twist and turn. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into both sides of the argument and shed light on this enduring question. 

The Power of Characters

Characters are the heart and soul of any screenplay. They play a pivotal role in shaping the narrative's impact on an audience. This is because characters are the vessels through which the audience experiences the story. Consequently, a well-developed character can make or break a film. You want audiences to relate to or empathize with your character. When this happens an invisible bond forms and forges an emotional connection that transcends the screen. Memorable characters leave a lasting impact, imprinting themselves in the collective consciousness of audiences and inspiring discussions, fan theories, and even influencing popular culture.

Furthermore, characters, when done right, do not merely serve as passive participants in the narrative but instead serve as a driving force for the plot. A well-defined protagonist with clear goals and motivations can propel the narrative forward and lead to compelling conflicts and resolutions. Moreover, complex and multi-dimensional characters add depth and authenticity to the story, making it more resonant and believable. Characters' relationships can also be a defining aspect of a screenplay. Whether it be love, friendship, or enmity, the interactions between characters can elevate the plot, deepening the emotional investment and driving the story's progression. 

Related: Developing Three-Dimensional Characters

The Significance of Plot

On the other hand, a meticulously crafted plot acts as the backbone of a successful screenplay. An engaging and well-structured storyline can captivate the audience's attention, transforming them into willing captives of the narrative from its inception to its crescendo. A strong plot can introduce exciting twists, unforeseen challenges, and satisfying resolutions, creating a roller-coaster experience that leaves viewers yearning for more. 

Plot-driven stories often encompass high-stakes situations and thrilling moments that keep the audience perpetually engaged. These stories are designed to entertain, surprise, and keep the audience on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting what lies beyond the next scene. In genres like action, thriller, and sci-fi, the plot unquestionably takes center stage, drawing the audience into a world of excitement and adventure.

The Interplay: Where Magic Happens

While the debate between characters and plot seems unending, the truth lies in the delicate interplay between these two indispensable elements. Characters and plot are not mutually exclusive; rather, they intertwine and interact to create a cohesive and impactful story. Dynamic characters can drive the plot forward with their choices and actions, while the plot can, in turn, shape and evolve the characters. A well-developed character can face challenges that reveal their true nature, and a compelling plot can provide opportunities for character growth and transformation. For instance, the transformation of Walter White in the television series "Breaking Bad" is intricately tied to the evolving plot as he delves deeper into the world of crime.

Moreover, a strong character-arc often intertwines with the progression of the plot. As characters overcome obstacles and confront conflicts, they experience change and development, enriching the overall narrative. The choices characters make, influenced by their personalities and motivations, can alter the trajectory of the plot, adding depth and complexity to the story.

Related: Understanding the Difference Between Plot and Story

In the end, the question of whether characters or plot is more important in screenwriting is akin to asking which wing is more crucial for a bird to fly. Both elements are undeniably essential and rely on each other to create a soaring cinematic experience.Memorable characters bring emotional depth and human connection to the story, while an engaging plot provides the framework for excitement and intrigue. It is this harmonious balance between well-developed characters and a captivating plot that forms the essence of great storytelling.

Aspiring screenwriters must understand that crafting an exceptional screenplay demands a delicate dance between character-driven moments and plot-driven excitement. Embrace the synergy between characters and plot, and you will unlock the key to success in the world of screenwriting, creating stories that resonate deeply with audiences, stand the test of time, and leave an indelible mark on the history of cinema.

More: How to Take Your Screenplay to the Next Level

Back to blog