Blog Journals The Evening Muse

The Evening Muse 2 | Lost the Plot

As I prepare to put ass to seat and fingers to keyboard for four hours of work on my own novel tonight, I contemplate the aspects of fiction that are most important to me.  One particular thing that’s absolutely essential for me, particularly in long form fiction is plot.  I’ve recently come to realize that I have a strong aversion to plot-less fiction.  Actually, I’ve always known it, but recent reads have reminded me that this is a big deal to me.  Most noticeably, I think a larger number of novels told in first-person narrative are fairly plot-less and meandering.  The narrator often lacks the necessary flair nor a captivating voice with which to tell a compelling story (naturally this becomes an indictment on the author’s prose, but that’s another conversation).  Even when serving as an outside observer to the events the narrator merely witness . . . they still somehow end up circumventing or meandering around the plot that should be, in my opinion, inherent in most stories that aren’t simply and blatantly being literary in purpose.  For me as a reader (and I guess a writer as well), it breaks down like this: have a compelling story to tell with characters that are as compelling as they can be within their roles, and tell the story in the most engrossing, immersive and compelling way possible.  Stay on point.

And, I suppose, like the late great Elmore Leonard said in his 10 Rules of Writing: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”  Of course his final point sums up all ten of his “rules” with this: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”  I’ve been doing this a good while and depending on the genre and style, that edict can be easier said than done.  But regardless of styles and categories and all that minutiae, I rarely if ever work without some semblance of a plot, an aggregate series of events that takes the character(s) from Point A to Point X and also makes the story a compelling read.  Maybe underneath all that it’s a bit math-y, but hey, life is series of unseen mathematical equations.

Listen, if I ever lose the plot – in my fiction or life – please smack some sense into me.  I don’t anticipate it but I’ll thank you in advance.


12 replies on “The Evening Muse 2 | Lost the Plot”

Libby, I would say that particular “rule” is good for any writing that isn’t supposed to be literary. Literary fiction is all about the “writing”. I’m actually going to briefly touch upon that in a future post. Nothing too deep, just a certain distinction supported by a quote from a very popular author. Thanks for following and reading, by the way! 🙂

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As an essayist, I am having trouble making my novel work naturally. My stream of consciousness writing (oh, how I admire Martin Amis!) does not flow or feel as comfortable as when I write from my heart. Since I do like dialogue, I’ve been considering the Elmore Leonard approach, eschewing extraneous stuff and just writing pure meat. Good luck with your process!

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Yeah, Andrew, best of luck to you as well. Like I was saying to Libby, it all depends on how you’re approaching the fiction as far as style, genre, voice, etc. etc. But even writing something that’s intentionally more literary, I still think a balance can be struck where you can focus on the power of words (what they mean, how they sound as they coalesce into sentences and paragraphs) and poignant observations about life and people, while still finding a way to instill a definitive thread or spine upon which the story can be carried. It’s can be an innate thing but also a skill that can be developed, especially through observation of seeing veterans pull it off.

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As for the dialogue focus…perhaps in your first drafts you can focus on the conversations to get the meat of your story out onto the page, and then in later drafts flesh the prose out more so that it’s a more rounded narrative? That’s the crazy thing about writing, there’s no one “tried and true” way to do anything, there’s a lot of trial by fire.

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That’s the easiest part. Aaron Sorkin said he would prefer to just write dialogue and not get bogged down in stories. ( I am paraphrasing) So much can be said in dialogue. My hope is the dialogue will lead me to a coherent plot upon which to connect. Thanks again!

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My first few years of “writing” (I say it like that because I was a young know-nothing teen) I wrote dialogue-only stories, mainly because I was a big TV and comic book head. I knew nothing about prose. So I I’d maybe have a caption for the setting/scene and then just let the characters talk to carry the story. I didn’t know it at the time but it really helped me hone my skill at writing dialogue. Probably still my greatest strength.

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