Posted by: nancycurteman | June 28, 2010

3 Plot-Driven Mystery Authors

In a previous post, I mentioned that mystery novels generally fall into three categories: Character-driven stories, Plot-driven stories, and a combination of the two. In a plot-driven mystery emphasis is on exterior events rather than on the inner story of each character. Characters often act as mere props for the twists and turns of the plot. Readers look for the next exciting action rather than the impact events have on characters. Think action, action, action. Often after a reader has finished a plot-driven novel she may not even recall the characters. As with character-driven stories, a good way for a new writer to enhance her skill in writing plot-driven novels is to read excellent books by authors who’ve written strong plot-driven books. Here are three authors and examples of their award-winning novels.

Tom Clancy wrote several plot-driven novels, four of which were made into movies:  The Hunt for the Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and the latest film, The Sum of All Fears. Any of these books will provide insight into the style of a plot-driven novel.

Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, one of the biggest selling novels of the 21st century, and Angels and Demons. Both became blockbuster movies. Readers either love or hate Brown’s books, but there is no denying they are plot-driven.

Michael Crichton has won many awards for his writing. Two of his books, A Case of Need and The Great Train Robbery won Edgar Allan Poe Awards. His novel, Jurassic Park was made into a big money-making film.


  1. Great post, Nancy. Looking forward to the rest of your series.


  2. Nancy ~

    Where would you put Agatha Christie mysteries ~ Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, etc.?

    Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Watson?

    Their characters are real characters that we remember . . . but yet we don’t see too much “inside” them.

    I’m inclined to say plot driven, but maybe they’ll be discussed in your next post?


    • I would put Poirot in the third category: a combination of plot and character-driven
      I’ve read some of Miss Marple, however I don’t have a good image of her as a character so, based on my limited experience with her I’d say she is more on the side of plot-driven. I’d love to hear from those who have read more of Miss Marple.


  3. Thank you so much for the distinction. I loved the Dan Brown books you mentioned. I was amazed that you would call him a detective writer. But you are ‘right’. Fantastic insight for me.


  4. Loren, Thanks for your comment. I do see Dan Brown’s protagonist as a reluctant sleuth based on his dogged effort to search out the trails that lead to the culprit.


    • That really expands the category in which one could expect to find a sleuth, I believe. But he is right ‘on the trail’, isn’t he, through all the churches and ‘catacombs’. and museums. He really is searching for the ‘code’, though, metaphysically at least. Anyway, that’s what I saw; my interpretation didn’t emphasize in my mind so much, all the physical aspects. You have helped me to discover that I’m a ‘character’ driven, author. Thanks.


  5. I’d be interested in knowing what you like to write. Are you a mystery writer? If so, what kind? Cozy, hardcore?


    • Thank you, Nancy. I have written two parts of a trilogy. Finished the draft about ten years ago, and have just recently picked it up again. It’s ‘heavy’. It explores the relationship of body to mind, both in philosophy and schizophrenia.
      The plot revolves around a student who feels harassed by the profs. It’s all innuendo, so she can’t prove a thing, and goes a ‘little insane’. I also write poetry.
      There is both poetry, prose, and philosophy in the ‘novels’. Thank you for your interest.


  6. Wow! Sounds fascinating. Good luck.


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