I am of the opinion that all good stories contain elements of all four core types. As a result, no one type is more valid or better a way to tell a story than another. Each has its respective strengths and weaknesses. In addition, regardless of the fashion in which a story was planned out, the finished piece may belong to a different story type, and may even be an inseparable blend of more than one type.

The four core types of story are, in order of most to least common, theme-centric, plot-centric, character-centric, and world-centric.

Theme-centric (courtesy swenson)

The main focus of the story is the overarching theme. The goal of the story is to impart a lesson or message.

Conflict can be either internal or external; it varies based on the lesson/message. When done well, the conflict reinforces the overall theme; when done poorly, it results in a lost or broken Aesop.

Examples: Aesop’s fables; parables; allegories, such as The Pilgrim’s Progress


The main focus of the story is the events that lead up to a resolution, or the effects arising from a specific cause/series of causes (“what happens” rather than “why it happens”). There is almost always a definite goal in mind from the start of the story.

Conflicts tend to be external. As a result, characterization tends to be flatter as characters’ actions take priority over their reasoning. When done well, the focus on actions works to characterize the characters; when done poorly, it results in inconsistent and/or uninteresting characters.

Examples: most myths, legends, and fairy tales


The main focus of the story is the character(s). Emphasis will be on characters’ motivations, thoughts, and how they develop over time (“why it happens” rather than “what happens”). The story/characters may not have a clear goal from the outset, else the goal may change.

Conflicts tend to be internal. As a result, consistently complex and dynamic characters are more common than in plot-centric stories. Depending on the degree of focus on the characters, very little plot-wise may occur; depending on how compelling the characters are, this underemphasis of plot may or may not turn away readers.

Examples: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; Dexter


The main focus of the story is the world in/location at which the story takes place. One could almost consider the world/location itself to be a character in its own right. The goal is usually to introduce and familiarize the reader to the world/location the story is set in. The least common and perhaps most difficult story type to pull off successfully.

Conflicts tend to be external, if any. Impressive and/or enjoyable when done well, but engaging the reader tends to be more difficult as a world/location is less easy to relate to. Often relies heavily on the inclusion of compelling characters and/or plot to keep readers interested.

Examples: The Lord of the Rings trilogy; the Discworld series, especially The Color of Magic and Pyramids!

Tagged as:


  1. Virgil on 5 September 2009, 18:02 said:

    I disagree to an extent that myths are story based. Some undoubtedly are, but quite a few are about internal characters, trials, etc.

  2. Danielle on 5 September 2009, 18:07 said:

    I think there needs to be a balance. The best stories, IMHO, are ones with an interesting world, realistic characters and a good plot. Stories where just one of those takes center stage can be interesting, but what I want out of a story is to be immersed in a world, a story and the people involved. That happens when there’s a balance.

  3. RandomX2 on 5 September 2009, 18:23 said:

    I haven’t really heard of “world-centric” before, so that’s a new one for me to keep in mind. I also didn’t find myself disagreeing with anything in particular throughout this article, so I guess it’s all good.

    Nicely written.

  4. swenson on 5 September 2009, 21:27 said:

    @Virgil- I disagree. I think the old myths were intensely story-based (or perhaps “theme-based”) They were about fundamental concepts, like right and wrong, justice, honor, obeying the gods, etc., not about the people involved. They were about what happened and the results and a lesson that the listeners should learn, not about the internal struggle of characters. That wasn’t invented until the novel was.

  5. Kyllorac on 6 September 2009, 09:17 said:

    @Virgil – Could we have an example of what you consider a character-centric myth?

    @Danielle – I agree.

    @swenson – I completely forgot about theme-based stories. Thanks for reminding me. :D

  6. Nimue on 6 September 2009, 14:01 said:

    I think that character-centric myths can be found in different interpretations of the legends of King Arthur. I recently read The Once and Future King by T.H White, the story line of which stuck to what we know of Arthurian legends, but White took liberties in giving the characters personalities and deciding how they interact with each other (for example, a more comical spin was put on King Pellinore and Glatisant). I also read The Mists of Avalon, which had essentially the same set of characters, but they all had completely different motives and personalities. While Mists focused more on the side of the Lady of the Lake (thus its plot varied somewhat from White’s version), it was interesting to see the some of the same characters in essentially the same situations, and yet they were entirely separate people. Of the books I’ve read, I think the Mists of Avalon comes closest to what I think is a character-centric myth – it focuses a lot on the characters’ inner struggles without bulldozing them for the sake of the plot. (I think The Once and Future King is more plot-centric when it comes down to it, but I thought it was interesting to compare the two.)

    Sorry that was kind of long…

  7. Kyllorac on 6 September 2009, 15:12 said:

    @Nimue – The thing about The Once and Future King, The Mists of Avalon, and any other interpretations of older legends and myths is that they are exactly that — interpretations. None of them are the original, therefore one cannot claim that the original is such-and-such because an interpretation of it was such-and-such. In addition, the terms “myth” and “legend” rely by definition on the story having been (a) passed down relatively unchanged for a long, long time and (b) believed as true. As such, neither book qualifies as an example of a myth or legend.

    What both books have done is taken a familiar legend and added elements to those stories to transform them into something different. While both The Once and Future King and The Mists of Avalon are based off the same source, they are very different stories as you point out.

    So, basically, what I’m saying with this really long comment is that the legends of King Arthur themselves are not character-centric.

  8. swenson on 6 September 2009, 17:30 said:

    Whee! I added to an article! :D

    Well, Greek plays certainly should fall under the category of “theme-centric”. Just finished reading the horribly gruesome and depressing Theban plays (by Sophocles) for AP English class, and although the characters and story are very important, the biggest thing is the themes- usually that humans are worthless, the gods are awesome, and life sucks.

  9. TakuGifian on 7 September 2009, 09:31 said:

    Hubris is fun, swenson. It makes for good watching. You need to read The Bacchae (*Bakkhai) by Euripides. Oh man, the themes of that one are all over the place, must mostly centred on hubris.

    That was a great article, Kyllorac, and I agree with your conclusion (preclusion?) that the different types can blend into each other and that each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

    I would, however, argue that perhaps “world-centric” is a sub-type rather than a type of its own, as it cannot stand on its own outside of ‘nonfiction’-style essays and the literary equivalent of ‘mockumentary’.

  10. Danielle on 7 September 2009, 11:53 said:

    @ swenson:

    Yeah. That, and if you’re a naughty boy or girl, you’ll get turned into a tree.

    No—wait. There were those two old people who got turned into trees as a reward for a lifetime of serving the gods….and Daphne got turned into a tree because she didn’t want to marry Apollo….huh….so is it only a punishment when you’re picking a few flowers to amuse your two-year-old?

  11. Aoede on 7 September 2009, 15:35 said:

    One of my favorite books is highly world-centric. The problem is, I am having a temporary brainblock and can’t think of its title!


    It’s not JS&MN, although that’s a combination of world- and character-centric and way up there on my list of good books.

    This is really, really irritating. I can taste the book on the back of my mind but nothing concrete comes forward.


  12. Pi on 7 September 2009, 23:35 said:

    For world-centric, how about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four? Though it does have characters which undergo growth, it is kind of played out that the characters expressions of free choice have all been done before, that they mean nothing and in the end, they lose to the world that is controlled by the party.

  13. swenson on 8 September 2009, 14:11 said:

    That’s true, I suppose… the “point” of 1984 is the dystopian world, not really the people in it.

  14. Danielle on 8 September 2009, 14:19 said:

    Couldn’t the same be said of The Grapes of Wrath? The characters are very well-drawn, don’t get me wrong, and the writing is excellent, but it’s really about how the social atmosphere of the 1930s affected the farmers and the working class.

  15. Anonymous45 on 8 September 2009, 15:02 said:

    O.o I should do a world centric story. I haven’t outlined my world yet, but I’m pretty sure with all the countries, lands, natural wonders etc I’ll wind up with several planets. Woo Space Travel! (I’ve considered getting a nice Irregular dwarf galaxy, but that is too alien, but Spiral galaxies look so waaaaay cooler, but they’re even more alien..but so pretty..so I’m stuck)

    Now, wouldn’t Eragon be considered world-centric? With all the traveling and infodumps about places (part of the reason I got obsesed with it)…

  16. Danielle on 8 September 2009, 15:36 said:

    You could argue that. You could also argue that it’s plot-centric, as none of the characters ever do anything that interferes with the plot. Then again, you could say it’s character-centric, as the title character is the center of everyone else’s universe.

  17. swenson on 8 September 2009, 16:27 said:

    I’d call in character-centric, because it’s all about the characters, their interactions, their growth over time, and their characterization… not necessarily good characterizations, but characterizations nonetheless.

    I daresay most modern novels (or perhaps the whole concept of a novel to begin with) are character-centric, really. That was what set a novel apart when they first started to be written- a deep exploration of characters, rather than just a story.

  18. Kyllorac on 8 September 2009, 20:03 said:

    I can definitely see 1984 as being world-centric. I’ve never read The Grapes of Wrath (I don’t know how I haven’t D:), so I couldn’t say.

    I agree with Danielle that Eragon is either plot or character-centric. For one thing, all the infodump description of locations serves no purpose outside of imitating Tolkien. Is the world actually “alive?” Does it have a profound and visible impact on shaping the characters and events of the story? The answer to both is no; therefore, not world-centric. Do the main characters of the story have a clear goal in mind, and are their efforts to achieve this goal focused upon? Yes, therefore it is plot-centric. Is the growth of a character(s), their outlook of the world, and/or their relationships focused on? Yes, even if it wasn’t portrayed well, and so it’s at least partially character-centric.

    Personally, I would to put Eragon into the category of plot-centric simply because that is its strongest aspect.

    @Anonymous45 – How is a spiral galaxy too alien? The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, and we live in it.

  19. Anonymous45 on 8 September 2009, 22:24 said:

    (@Kyllorac—I know, and it isn’t because it is our galaxy, so sentimental connections and all, but, if I make my world be in another galaxy, it will be millions of ly away from Earth, which is really too far away, and is a problem.
    Most of my lands are virtually the same as Earth, in terms of climate, species and many many people’s cultures are based off Earth cultures, and I also tend to do a weird genre where everyone still rides horses tournaments, lives under thatched roofs, and drinks beer in taberns, but there is absolutely no magic and everything has a scientifically plausible explanation, but it is not historical fiction.
    Then if I say that all this just popped up and is happening in a galaxy 98 million ly away, a logical explanation to the inevitable question “how’d that happen?” is ooh so really unlikely, and I really don’t want to rip off Stargate (but it unfortunately seems having the ability to summon travelable wormholes at will is pretty much the only plausible way out here). But I like the availability of free space.
    A spiral galaxy is too alien because if they were in an irregular galaxy, they could still be a companion of Milky Way, but spiral galaxies are very big, and very rare and thus widely dispersed so there’s no such loophole here. Sorry I took so long =D takes off hat and makes Puss-In-Boots from Shrek eyes)

    @swenson, but thinking that way, isn’t every story character centric? Every story is about characters and their actions and development. If it isn’t about characters, it becomes a textbook. The only story I read I can I can think of that was per se about an event was Hard To Be A God, because it described what caused it (and declared that was what it was doing) and it still followed a character.

    Another candidate for world-builders would probably be the Wizard of the Emerald Castle series they had flattish characters, separate plots, few themes, but in every book they dicovered something new in their world, and then used it to their advantage when the next villain tried to enslave them.

    Oh, and they would so kick the Varden’s collective a* it isn’t even funny. Its FUN. Give them a few months, they would make Eragon cry. O wait, he does that routinely. But really, I’d love to see the look on Eragon’s face when:
    -All the non important Varden suddenly fall asleep for a week, and when they wake up they think like babies and must be spoonfed,
    -Yestreday he was walking with Arya when a really heavy shovel lifted itself into the air and then slammed Arya’s head knocking her out.
    -the camp is routinely attacked by people with mirrors who can’t be killed with swords and arrows
    -He+Saphira has to face: a 30 foot tall Iron man, a flock of giant eagles, and an army of people in medieval clothes in sunglasses on dragons. With bows. But he has magiks…. I wonder who’d win..

    And again sorry for length.. school wants me to write 6-9 page essays routinely…i’m getting warmed up =D

  20. AdamPottle on 8 September 2009, 23:15 said:

    Hmm, would you consider a story plot-centric if the characters have little influence over the plot? To clarify, I mean the plot is on such a huge scale (world war, etc) that the actions of individuals hold little sway over it.

  21. Kyllorac on 9 September 2009, 07:59 said:

    It would depend on the focus. Are the large-scale events the focus of the story, or are they more of a backdrop against which the main plot is set? If the former, it may be plot-centric. Are the characters’ thoughts, motivations, frustrations, and the actions arising from them the main focus? If so, then the story is character-centric, even if the characters’ actions hold little sway over the large-scale events.

    Take a war, for instance. Historical accounts would definitely be plot-centric (think any history textbook), whereas an account following a particular group of men in the course of that war would be character-centric (think “Band of Brothers”).

    @Anonymous45 – Have you considered using an alternate universe/timeline?

    And O’Neill is awesome.

    @1984 – Thinking about it a bit more, I’d say that 1984 is a good example of a theme-centric book. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is also a good example of a theme-centric novel since it explores the issues of censorship and ignorance vs knowledge.

  22. Witrin on 9 September 2009, 19:58 said:

    Would the Bas-Lag novels by China Mieville be an example of world-centric?

  23. Anonymous45 on 9 September 2009, 23:07 said:

    I’ve used it for 1 story but Hmmm… ty

    O’Neill Awesome? maybe to each their own, but personally I found him extremely annoying, and soon developed flattening fantasies involving him and tanks. Why he is so popular is one of the world’s greatest mysteries… Vala rocks.

    @Witrin what would make them world-centric?

  24. Kyllorac on 10 September 2009, 07:04 said:

    Vala does rock. As for flattening fantasies, Daniel was the target of mine.

    @Witrin – I’ve never read the Bas-Lag novels, so could you explain why you think it’s world-centric?

  25. Anonymous45 on 10 September 2009, 13:33 said:

    Daniel had comma-shaped eyebrows in early seasons…
    and something wasn’t quite right with Sheppard’s ears…

  26. windspeck on 10 September 2009, 15:53 said:

    The Bas-Lag novels are actually both world-centric and plot-centric. They don’t really have any themes, and the characters, while not flat, are not really complelling all by themselves either. World wise…there was quite some extensive worldbuilding (it’s the main attraction, afterall, with all its unusual intelligent species and magical technology and all). But take Perdido Street Station for example, it has a very good plot (I won’t spoil anything for anyone) that goes together very nicely in a suitable pace.
    Eragon…I don’t even know what Eragon is. It has flat characters, boring plot, world full of holes, and…no theme at all. So…?

  27. Anonymous45 on 10 September 2009, 16:27 said:

    I did enjoy Eragon while I read it though…
    it had this cool sense of like “out in the world for the first time, everything is new and shiny” and they had no place they had to return to, and carried with them all they had/needed, so there was this awesome sense of total freedom, and not being tied down and constrained and just flowing with the current and making split second decisions.
    And then there were funny moments like when Eragon and Brom pretended to be idiots to get into Teirm, or Brom yelling at Eragon for being an idiot and Eragon and Saphira’s vaguely dirty relationship:
    Eragon: “Browm and I are going to town and will ditch you on outskirts so you can’t help us if we screw up again.”
    Saphira: “If you screw up again, you loser, I will get ropes and tie you to my back as vengeance and you will not move without my knowledge!!!”
    Eragon: “I love you too.”
    Saphira: “Then I will bind you even tighter.”

    I read that I was all like O__________o

  28. ProserpinaFC on 12 September 2009, 17:41 said:

    Olson Scott Card has words about this in How to write science fiction and fantasy, right?

  29. kimberly on 22 June 2010, 01:16 said:

    its so BADOY….hahahahaha…:))

  30. VikingBoyBilly on 10 June 2012, 11:40 said:

    I know this thread is prehistoric by now, but you linked to it Ky, so I’m posting.

    I have another example argument for character-centric myths. Norse mythology was heavy on it. I’m sure everyone’s heard of Thor’s rival, the evil trickster Loki. But in the beginning, they were best friends. They even had an interesting polarized chemistry – strong dumb guy teamed up with the weak smart guy. Then Loki murdered Balder, and Thor was the one given the task to bind Loki for eternally, something that gave Thor a lot of internal conflict and grief carrying out. This stuff looks very focused on the characters to me, and it didn’t seem hackneyed in a way that they did things just because the plot told them to.