Are you plot-driven or character-driven?

I’m reading a very good book called Wool by a chap called Hugh Howey.  Wool is a Dystopian thriller set at some unspecified distant future, and follows the lives of a community living inside an subterranean silo years after some so-far unspecified apocolyptic event.  I’ll get around to doing a review on it when I’m done, but I thought it was worth mentioning because it is the first book I’ve picked up based on a less-than-positive review from Publisher’s Weekly:

Wool’s success as a self-published e-book is not surprising given its one-two punch of post-apocalyptic wasteland and futuristic dystopia, but Howey’s immaturity as a writer, especially the bland characters and conflict reminiscent of B-movies, overshadows his intriguing world.

A bit harsh. Anyway, when I read this I thought: ‘Great! I’m in the mood for a plot-driven action fest’, so I was a little surprised when Wool turned out to be a well-paced, well-thought-out, atmospheric thriller with great characterisation and an excellent, flowing turn of prose.
Is it a literary work? No, but then I don’t think it was meant to be.  
A good book has to be driven by characters and plot. The level to which you expose your reader the reader to both depends on the kind of novel you’re aiming for: a pacey thriller, or a deeply meaningful work of art. But at some level you will definitely need both. 
If you decide to spend your whole novel traipsing around the inner world of your characters’ dreams then I will probably think, ‘Well, they’re lovely people but why do I care what they think?’
If you spend your whole novel in a ditch firing laser guns at a superior enemy then I will probably think, ‘Well there’s a lot going on, but why do I care that Captain Duke Steele of the Galactic Rangers now has a hole in his head?’
The trick is balance, and I reckon Howey balanced Wool extremely well.

Or at least, he has so far . . . 🙂

Incidentally, Howey runs some useful hints for self-publishers, so if you want advice on gettting your novel formatted for print or electronic distribution then it’s worth stopping by.

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