I often bemoan the importance placed upon plot in the current literary environment. Being a writer who does not have a plot in mind when he begins a book, I tend to focus upon character first, and as a result, my work can sometimes be rambling and unfocused, especially in its first draft. In revising UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, several characters and scenes were ultimately cut from the novel because they simply did not propel the plot forward. A conversation with my agent or editor might go something like this:
Not me: What’s the purpose of this character?
Me: I dunno. Isn’t she interesting and kind of amusing?
Not me: Yes, but how does she fit into the story?
Me: I dunno. A minor yet clever diversion?
Both my agent and editor are kind enough to let me down as easily as possible by saying things like, “She’s a great character, but maybe she wasn’t meant for this book” or “Perhaps you can post this chapter online after publication, as supplementary material?”
They are nice and maybe even right, but I am left wondering why all things must serve the plot. Why can’t a book have a more meandering, character-driven approach to it? Why does everything in a story need to propel the action forward? Why does conflict need to be introduced so early?
This topic comes up quite often when I’m speaking to people about my book, and when it does, I usually put the blame right where it belongs: upon the shoulders of my audience.
Not nice to blame your audience and fans, I know, but it just might be true.
The modern reader, I am told, does not have the patience for a slowly develop, slightly meandering plotline. If a book doesn’t grab the reader’s attention in the first twenty pages, it is often abandoned. In today’s climate, the conflict must be introduced early and the plot must be advanced at all times.
How annoying that an army of impatient readers impact the way in which I write.
The along comes this article on the state of the novel from The Wall Street Journal, written by Lev Grossman, which contains this dreadful line:
If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.