1. SurrealOdyssey
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    SurrealOdyssey Member

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    Stories without plots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by SurrealOdyssey, Dec 26, 2009.

    I wanted to know what you think about the idea of a story without a clear plot structure, eg orientation, complication, resolution and stuff.

    There is one woman I know who has written almost an entire novel in which she set out to break standard plot conventions and simply make it a collection of desciptions of events, characters, places, all set around a particular fantasy city. It's written in the style of Magical Realism. I havent read it all, but what I have read is very beautiful and fascinating.

    I am also looking to write a short story that presents a snapshot of a fantasy world I have created, tell us about the characters who live there, their situation, what it is like in this place, all of which express an important message/idea that I want to present. There would not be a complication or resolution or anything like that, it's purpose would be simply to express some strong emotions and an important idea in the most aesthetic way possible, with images and characters that some readers could hopefully relate to very well.

    What's your opinion?
     
  2. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    To me, in general, a story has to have some sort of conflict/resolution. It doesn't have to be action driven, or complicated to push a story forward, but there generally has to be some sort of problem that needs solving. It could be emotional development of a character, usually dramas are like this, where not a lot of action happens, but still something is happening to the characters to make them evolve or change.

    Normally books about nothing are not as popular as say shows about nothing (like Seinfield) was. Even then something usually happened to cause complications in the lives of the characters at a humorous expense.

    Without some sort of plot, it is nothing more than character descriptions and location descriptions. For it to be a story SOMETHING has to happen. Even if your friend thinks she is breaking some sort of plotting rules, for her story to have any sort of interest, something has to be happening in it, otherwise it would be duller than mud.

    If you look at some of the older short stories, written back over 100 years ago, most had some sort of social context or ideas in the story hidden in metaphors. But, even when trying to convey a social issue, they did it through a problem/solution/ action/reaction way. It would be hard to have a story that would hold the reader's interest without any plot at all.

    Nothing says you can't try it. But, don't be shocked when someone reads it and tells you it bored them to sleep.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm.

    If she is writing this "novel" in the style of Magic Realism, there are some conventions that would have to appear to deserve the appellation. Magic Realism often has as part of its stylistic intent the wish to convey to the reader a particular aspect of the culture encased in the story so that the reader feels sympathetic toward the given cultural paradigm.

    So, that part fits the description you have given to The Collection. (I will refer from here on out to that lady's story as The Collection.)

    But even within the context of Magic Realism (very popular where I live in Puerto Rico) there must still be a framework around which to hopefully gain sympathy from the reader for the culture, and that framework still takes the form of a standard protagonist + conflict / resolution = story kind of way. Magic Realism in my own culture (Hispanic) often comes with resolution that might not be considered resolution in the Good Guy/Gal wins/saves the day and gets the Girl/Guy sort of way. Often, given the high drama to which my people are rather fond, everything ends sadly and tragically for all involved.

    But still there is a plot, there is a progression of events, there is change for the characters. It appears from you description that The Collection contains none of these.

    Your friend is not, in my opinion, writing a novel. The Collection is an exercise in developing exposition of places and people.

    A worthy venture as an experiment and as a place to stretch writing muscles, but... know what you are about when you are doing it.
     
  4. giskard
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    giskard New Member

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    I would say it is impossible to do something with no direction at all. Everything has a cause and effect relationship, even if it's the smallest thing in the world. Even if a character is described as having to put on an extra layer to keep them warm, it is still a plot (a really lame one, but a plot nonetheless). It's windy outside. What do we do? I need to get some bread! I'll put on a jumper. Character stays warm.

    What I suspect you mean is that there is no immediate threat to one of their lives, the city isn't about to break down and one of the characters isn't going to take it upon themselves to save the world.

    So long as something is going on, be it a love affair, political battles between two tribes, or even a daily trip to get some food, then it will (generally) keep interest, giving you the opportunity to explain your world around it.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Many stories have undoubtedly been written with no plots, and no direction. I doubt that many of them have been published, and those that have are probably quickly forgotten.
     
  6. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's see...a book with interesting or beautiful descriptions and no plot. Sounds like a coffee table book. Such books usually display a themed collection of pictures, but I suppose an author could compile a selection of descriptions with no story line--no beginning, no end. Like any coffee table picture book, it wouldn't matter where the reader begins. Not something I would buy, but who knows? Some people DO buy books of poetry. Ironically, they often end up on the coffee table! LOL
     
  7. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    A story without a plot is like a knife without a blade. It just doesn't cut it.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think I would read something like this. It seems to me that the book is filled with descriptions and that's it. The only potential IMO is in the characters and their problems/adventures, which brings me to my next point.

    Some literary fiction novels lack plot in the traditional sense. Yes, something does happen in the book, but it's a lot more subtle than what is usually found in genre fiction. The literary books that do fall under this category tend to be more character driven. For instance, a student may skip school for a day and roam around the city. This has potential as a short story (or novel, perhaps) only if the writer focuses on the character and his adventures. If the writer is just describing the city or the enviroment, then I'm not sure I would read it.

    Bottom line is that something big need not necessarily happen in the story, but readers need something enlightening or entertaining to read, so it helps if something, no matter how small it is, happens in the course of the story.

    Perhaps poetry would be better suited for this purpose than short stories or novels.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to echo others above, you can write anything... the question is, will enough people pay good money to read it, to make it worth publishing?... without a plot of any kind, the answer is a resounding 'No!'...
     
  10. Clockwork
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    Clockwork New Member

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    For me personally experimental or non-traditional plot structure can still be an interesting read, depending on how it’s executed (and is pretty different from no plot at all).

    Its more common with comics and manga to find stories that are like snapshots rather than defined event driven plots, and quite a lot of movies now employ the pulp fiction technique of wrapping lots of tiny ‘day in the life of’ stories together into one big theme. You can still find the conflict/resolution in most of these, but as mentioned they might just be very ordinary or maybe occur completely within a characters own head.

    (It also raises a weird point: If you are giving your readers a reason to care about what happens to a character, does it matter if nothing very much does happen to them? )
     
  11. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Clockwork, in answer to your weird point.
    Caveat: I speak only for myself.
    How do you care about a character for whom there is nothing at stake. Even if the conflict is internal, there needs to be something there.

    For me saying "story without plot" is like saying "coal without carbon."
     
  12. SurrealOdyssey
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    SurrealOdyssey Member

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    Okay okay, so some of you are saying there has to be something happening, anything. That's fine. In both cases, this woman's book and my story, there is definitely a few things happening. So it's not just empty descriptions. In one chapter, someone talks about their romantic relationship with a woman and how they came to meet her, for example. My story features a bunch of tourists coming to visit this place, meeting the people there, having different reactions to what they see, some being inspired to take certain actions, and then all leaving at the end to go home. Argh, it's hard to describe without going into detail, but.. yeah. :)

    With that in mind, does that change anything? Were your criticisms directed more at the idea of empty descriptions with nothing happening, or something with no great complication and tension that needs to be resolved? (Which both these stories don't really have).

    Yeah, that's what I meant.
     
  13. Clockwork
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    Clockwork New Member

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    (Caveat back at you: I might be rambling)
    My thinking was like this: what if the action has all occurred before the story begins, or if there is only the possibility of something but the story ends without giving any clue about whether it actually happens.

    If we as readers have grown to like a character through these sorts of ‘snapshot’ interactions or thoughts – its shown that they’re funny, or sly or kind etc, then maybe the mere description of a world/ society/whatever in which they come into contact with many potential conflicts would be enough for a compelling story, without telling the reader which, or if any of these befall the character.

    Anyway, my point to SurrealOdyssey is still: if done well non conventional story structure can (and has) worked. Like thirdwind I immediately thought of Catcher in the Rye as a good example of a book with ambiguous conflict/resolution, and Nick Hornby often writes stories which don’t offer any real conclusions about what will happen to his characters, his best endings are usually ‘outlook is good’ or ‘they’re ok at the moment’ because that’s a lot truer to real life, after all.
     
  14. SurrealOdyssey
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    SurrealOdyssey Member

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    Thanks for your constructive responses.

    I wonder - how do you truly define story? It's an interesting question to consider when facing an issue like this. I see two purposes - to entertain, and/or to express a message.

    We may use whatever writing format works best for us- narrative prose or poetry, to put this message across.

    Sometimes I wonder about the distinction between self expression and appealing to others. I wonder how much each one should be willing to compensate for the other? There's no point expressing yourself if no one else is interested, but you also don't want to be inauthentic, sell youself out.

    Anyway, these are just ramblings. I'm interested in people's thoughts.
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    One can't please everyone, so I never worry about appealing to others. First and foremost I write for myself and others like me.

    I like to think of Twilight as a good example of this. Ever since its popularity, it seems that a lot of new writers started writing vampire stories, trying to appeal to the already established vampire fanbase. But one has to keep in mind that what's popular now may not be popular a year or two from now. Therefore, I think it's best to write oneself and not be concerned with fads or other people's interests.
     
  16. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    To me, every story has a plot. It may not be a very good plot, but it is there, even when the writer says it's not.
     
  17. Trevor
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    Trevor Member

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    To be honest, I really do feel this board puts to much emphasis on being a published writer; what ever happened to writing for fun? Who cares how many people read it, I care how many people truly enjoy it.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My answer to that would be: If you don't care what anyone else thinks about your writing, then why ask any questions at all?

    The truth is, we all write for others, to at least some degree. Even if publication isn't your goal, quality writing is still measured against the standard of, "Is it publishable?"
     
  19. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trevor,

    How many people will truly enjoy a piece if very few actually read it? Publication is a method to make a piece available to a large number of readers to enjoy.

    There isn't any reason a writer can't have fun while striving to get his/her writing published.

    Terry
     
  20. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't have NO plot, but the movie MASH doesn't have any one well defined plot throughout the movie the way movies generally do. They are different mediums, I know, but it is a place to start when looking at this kind of story telling.
     
  21. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    The genre is called Slice of Life. It makes for some of the most popular shows, but I haven't heard of any slice of life books that made it big.
     
  22. m5roberts
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    m5roberts Member

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    slice of life books

    Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Sallinger
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
    The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
    Life is Funny - E. R. Frank
     
  23. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read several short stories which consist of people relating their experiences etc.

    Thomas Hardy wrote one about passengers on a coach all relating their tales of people who had lived in their village (can't remember the name, but it was in the collection 'Life's Little Ironies'). However, every story had a beginning, middle and end i.e. was plot-driven, and they were stories within a story because the reader continued reading to find out if the stranger would return to the village. Without this element I doubt the story wouldn't have held the reader's attention so well, and even so, it wouldn't have been enough to carry a full-length novel.

    So, no. I can't imagine who would be interested in reading 80,000+ words which were a loose collection of thoughts, experiences and random descriptions, no matter how well-written.
     
  24. SurrealOdyssey
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    SurrealOdyssey Member

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    What do y'all think of books like Catch-22, which is simply a series of events based around his premise of 'Catch 22'. Not a standard page turning, tension creating plot, but a classic nonetheless. What was it that made this book work, that made people want to read it?
     
  25. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read this years ago, so I can't remember the details--but the 'premise' WAS a plot of a kind.
     

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