This next part is important. When you think of the modern or contemporary authors that are going to be studied in the future—assuming that anyone bothers to engage studying such a quaint and curious notion as authorship in the centuries to come, given the inevitable proliferation of the Internet beyond rational comprehension—you are probably thinking of a few dead white guys, perhaps some middle twentieth century feminists and later post-colonial writers, and if you are extremely generous you might make a grab bag of some of the authors you find in the “literary” sections at Barnes and Noble. More than likely, of course, you’ll end up being completely wrong.
Scholarship continues to suggest more and more that the reason we love our dead white guys so much is not because their writing taps in to some Emersonian oversoul or espouses the collective unconscious that Jung and Fraser dreamed of, but rather, we read the works of the authors that history has been kind enough to remember. History remembers those authors, for the most part, because we have more copies of their work than any others. This isn’t to suggest that Zane Grey and R.L. Stine will be as familiar as the Bard in 2250, but it does heavily imply that, heaven forbid, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King do not likely need to worry about anyone forgetting their names any time soon.
In fact, I do not doubt whatsoever that King will endure long into the next Age when writing becomes as passé and forgotten as lyre-strumming. You are welcome to bash the majority of his works and rightfully so, but keep in mind that nearly everyone recognizes Romeo and Juliet, but few could possibly remember that Timon of Athens also belongs to the One with the Pointed Beard.
None of that is the important part.
Plot is a nifty device; it is a useful tool for describing the arc of a story’s development or for deriding a best-selling thriller. However, plot seems to be very misunderstood by even the most erudite readers. Critics demand “characters” and “emotional depth” and “clarity of vision” and have clearly never read The Odyssey.
It is dangerous to claim that a “plot-driven” story is somehow implicitly weaker than one with a “character-driven” arc. All that it means is that the action of the novel or tale is the central focus that the author chose to derive the rest of the content from. To go back to Stephen King, one of my favorite quotes of his can be paraphrased as “I don’t write ‘literary’ fiction, which I see as extra-ordinary people in ordinary situations; rather, I like to find out what happens when you put ordinary folk into an extraordinary predicament.”
I personally take it a step further, which leads me to writers I’ve mentioned before, like Raymond Carver, who examine what happens with ordinary people in ordinary situations. For most of us, life is not a series of awesome explosions and exciting car chases down busy streets during rush hour, and we aren’t brilliant but twisted minds dealing with our inner turmoil while catching the new neighbor’s young daughter sunbathing by the pool. We aren’t finding spiritual enlightenment by mentoring a developmentally disabled child, or rising out of the projects only to be cut down by the past we couldn’t escape.
Yet, I know many people who have had a lot of crazy stuff happen to them or around them. In my own fiction, I explore the nature of reality by examining the truth of situations that happen to other people. I can draw on the story I heard at a bar told by someone who once saw someone shot while wandering through a rough neighborhood after losing his money in a low-stakes poker game. I’m not going to try and convince you that the protagonist/narrator is some interesting person who you should care about, I’m just going to share his story with you. I’ve mentioned that many of my stories do not have endings at all, which makes them virtually incapable of finding publication. At the same time, the ones that have been published, or that are shared on sites like this one, generally meet the goal of inspiring someone to think, to engage with the text in a way that creates a multimedia dimension out of a one-dimensional creation.
When I talk or write about plot, I’m referring to the action of a story, good or bad, and the idea that sometimes, you just want to laugh or cry without worrying about how believable a character is or how plausible a plot twist seems. Just sit back and enjoy it.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite stories:
“Two guys walked into a bar. The third one ducked.”