Or maybe that should be what's in the driver's seat?
"This novel is plot driven. We're looking for character driven novels."
This was a rejection I received a few years ago. The editor went on to offer some advice that was appreciated. But I still had a problem and his letter offered no enlightenment. I didn't know the difference between plot driven and character driven. Don't all novels need a plot and characters?
It was driving me around the bend, so I took some classes and read some books, and what I finally narrowed it down to is this:
A plot driven novel is on in which the events drive the story and cause the character to make certain decisions. For example in a murder mystery, the event of the murder causes the detective to make decisions to do something. As the events unfold, the character makes more decisions, but throughout the book, the events drive the decisions.
A character driven novel is exactly the opposite. The character's decisions drive the events. Claire Bennett is a character that moves and speaks without forethought, which gets her into all kinds of trouble. The tag line for this manuscript is "With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel." The story is totally character driven and would not be the same with another character as the protagonist.
But do character driven novels have plot? Of course they do, but the plot wouldn't move forward without the character's decisions. Those decisions are what drive or change this type of story. For instance:
If Claire hadn't made the ill-fated decision to take a cooking class, the school wouldn't have burned.
If that story were plot driven then when the school burned, it would have caused Claire to make the decision to never learn to cook.
What about character in a plot driven novel? They have to be just as strong and three-dimensional as in the character driven novel.
It all comes down to what is in the driver's seat: plot or character?