My stories are character driven. I throw a character into an unusual situation and see how he copes. As the individual reacts and responds to his surroundings, a unique and believable character is developed. The interaction between individual characters appears realistic because the writing focuses their personalities as well as the plotline.
While character driven tales are fun to write, there are disadvantages. I once started a novel exploring a future in which a nasty virus had converted many of its victims into zombies. Without a strong plot outline to hold me in check, I created far too many characters. While fascinating, the story moved in many directions and I found myself grinding to a stop.
Many Authors write a plot outline before they compose their first line. They describe the physical and mental characteristics of each individual and then list the main events contained within each chapter. Plot outlines can become extremely complex, covering many pages.
Plot driven stories also have disadvantages. Characters are sometimes forced to react in a way many readers would find unbelievable in order to follow the plotline. Dialog can also suffer. If the plot is expertly composed this can be avoided – but we don’t live in a perfect world.
What works best for me is to use a combination of the two styles. I love characterization – that’s my strength – but I start with a lightweight plot that keeps me pointed in the right direction.