Today we turn to the discussion of what drives a story…plot or characters. This is one of those eternal debates among literary types about which is better plot-driven or character driven stories. Here is a test to see which one you favor.
For many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the plot. Simply put the plot is what happens in a story (the movement from place to place, the change in people/circumstances/relationships, etc) and the order in which it happens. As it has been the said the plot serves as the roadmap that takes a story from A to B. A plot driven story is usually a page-turner with lots of action and explosions (real or figurative). Think of a summer blockbuster put out by Hollywood, lots of flash and flesh, little heart and soul.
On the other hand, there are characters, all those people, places, animals, and things that exist in a story. It is often more than a protagonist (hero) and a antagonist (villain), but never less. A character driven story is one that focuses on the thoughts and emotions of those in the story, a plot still exists (movement), but the focus on how these events impact the characters, not what will come next. Think of a low budget movie put out by an independent label, lots of conversation and emotion, little special effects and flash (that stuff is expensive!).
But what does this have to do with telling the story of scripture…does it matter if we are character or plot driven? I think it is very important and one of the reasons for some Christians disagree. See if this (cliff notes) story is familiar to you…
(Basic Plot-Driven) You are a sinner…Christ died for your sins…Heaven and Hell
This is a plot driven gospel. Although there is a deeper story that run behinds this narrative that gives a little more information about the characters,
(Deeper Plot-Driven) God created…Man fell…God called Israel…Israel disobeyed…Christ died…Salvation offered…Heaven and Hell
it still driven by the plot…always focused on the next stage…hurry up and decide before time runs out! For some of us this is the story we tell. Some argue this is not a story at all, but that is not true, it is just a different kind of story. It starts by defining A (sinners) and establishing B (salvation) and the whole story hangs on movement from A-B. The whole purpose becomes getting people to move, getting them to go from A-B, getting people to transform. And don’t get me wrong these are important, but they still seem empty to me, much like a summer blockbuster…there is lots of flash and little substance. It gives me flashbacks to youth camp where everything built up to the emotional plea about hell on Thursday night. Accept your are a sinner going to hell and do something about, by the end of the week would be best!
But does scripture tell the story this way? Sure all the plot points are there, but are the points the focus? I would suggest they are not, the focus is on a character, The Character, not the parts.
Scripture is character driven…it is about God being revealed in his steadfast love and faithfulness, ultimately in His Son Jesus Christ. The focus is on who God is, how we responds to events, how he chases those he loves, and punishes those he loves.
Scripture reveals God whose power is found in a gospel, not a plan of salvation. But I do agree it sure is easier to get people’s attention with flash. But can you hold it?