Plot matters, but plot is juvenile: it is subservient to character and language. Writing teachers make a mistake by concentrating too much on plot. It is not the be-all and end-all in a piece of literature. Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens. And how it happens occurs in the way language captures it. The one thing we cannot do in “real” life is stop time. But we can do it in literature. Anyone can tell a big story, but not everyone can tell a small story. Maybe in this day and age we are diseased by plot. Let’s face it, plots are good for movies, but when over-considered they tend to make books creak. In the world of film we need motivation leading to action. But in literature we need contradiction leading to action, yes, but also leading to inaction. The greatest novel ever written has very little apparent plot. A cuckold walks around Dublin for twenty-four hours. No shootouts, no crashes. Instead it is a vast compendium of human experience. Still, this doesn’t take away from the fact that every story ever told has some sort of plot (and maybe especially Ulysses). What plot must do is twist our hearts in some way. We must care about the music of what happens. One thing leads to the next. And the issues of the human heart unfold in front of us.
Letters to Young Writers | Young Writers Archive