Can Any Story Really Be “Character-Driven?”

whole person

In his best-selling how-to-write book, Television Writing from the Inside Out, our Fearsome Leader, LB, makes the argument that all books, movies, and television episodes are story-driven because writers, consciously or unconsciously, always end up creating characters whose personalities will work most effectively within their preconceived story structure. Even the best-written of those characters only seems be be pushing the story forward; s/he is actually capable of only choosing, or, rather, seeming to choose, moves that the story already wants to make.

Over the years, TVWriter™ ‘s boss has caught a lot of flak for this, which made it particularly interesting for those of us who work for him and want to suck up a bit to encounter this particular post on AdvicetoWriters.Com last Christmas weekend:

A Character Is Never A Whole Person

A character is never a whole person, but just those parts of him that fit the story or the piece of writing. So the act of selection is the writer’s first step in delineating character. From what does he select? From a whole mass of what Bernard DeVoto used to call, somewhat clinically, “placental material.” He must know an enormous amount more about each of his characters than he will ever use directly—childhood, family background, religion, schooling, health, wealth, sexuality, reading, tastes, hobbies—an endless questionnaire for the writer to fill out. For example, the writer knows that people speak, and therefore his characters will describe themselves indirectly when they talk. Clothing is a means of characterization. In short, each character has a style of his own in everything he does. These need not all be listed, but the writer should have a sure grasp of them. If he has, his characters will, within the book, read like people.


The post doesn’t tell us who William Sloane is, unfortunately. But we’re thinking he could be this guy, who wrote a couple of novels and founded a highly respected publishing company, William Sloane Associates, Inc.

to walk the night william sloane

At least, we hope that’s who it is cuz this particular William Sloane sounds like a very talented guy.

the edge of running water william sloane