The difference between plot driven and character driven children’s stories

  • Whether we perceive literary characters as psychological entities or plot vehicles, we expect them to change in some way throughout the narrative.
  • In plot oriented stories, the change will be mostly, if not exclusively, in the character’s power position, a development from underprivileged through trials toward material reward (“crowning”).
  • This is mostly true of adventure stories e.g. Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper.
  • Books for girls work like this too. Heidi is rewarded by material wealth for moral virtue.
  • In character-oriented narratives we expect the character to obtain new—presumably higher—moral qualities, mature spiritually, gain knowledge and insights etc.
  • The change me be explicit e.g. Pinnochio
  • Or it may be implied, with readers drawing their own conclusions.
  • A character who doesn’t change can’t be considered the true protagonist of a story. So Pippi Longstocking, for example, is not the protagonist because she is everything we’d hope her to be at the beginning of the story. Likewise Peter Pan. The characters around them change and are therefore the protagonists.
  • However, not all protagonists change. There is no character development in formulaic fiction e.g. Biggles, Enid Blyton’s children, Nancy Drew etc. There is also no character development in Heidi, even though this is not formulaic fiction. She is perfect from the start.

from Maria Nikolajeva’s The Rhetoric Of Character In Children’s Literature

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