1. Dannabis
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    Dannabis New Member

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    To what extent must a plot be present?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Dannabis, Jan 11, 2013.

    I've always seen it as an art form to create a story without a solid plot. One of my favourite books, 'Immediate Action' by Andy McNab (albeit non-fiction but could have easily have been fiction) had no real plot but was readable and addictive because of Andy's persona and his ability to fully express his experiences. I've always thought that this could be an interesting approach to first-person fiction but am unsure what anyone else thinks.
     
  2. Muff
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    Muff Member

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    If done right, a plot can be more or less non-existent. Just look at Catcher in the Rye, or better yet anything Bukowski wrote.
     
  3. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Yeah I was always confused by this, as i thought no matter what happens it becomes the plot of the story, even if it is mundane because there has to be actions, reactions etc. But I have heard tales of such stories and always wondered how it classed as not having a plot. Not much help but glad someone asked :D
     
  4. Dannabis
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    Dannabis New Member

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    I found in the aforementioned book, which is essentially a biography but styled so very nicely like first-person fiction, that the entire book was built up of many different stories, or 'experiences' which all fitted together to make the finished product.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'coming of age' novels/films generally don't have much off [or any] real 'plot'... same goes for some 'buddy' stuff and a lot of the 'literary' novels...
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what often ends up as 'literary fiction.' It's something I grapple with, as my stories are much more character driven than story-driven. There are plenty of novels out there that are done this way. (It's even somewhat of a joke in writing circles about how novelists of literary fiction scoff at the idea of 'plot.') A few months back my book club read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which has received rave reviews overall, although when you look at amazon and goodreads, the people who didn't like it really, really despised it. That book, to me, is the current quintessential example of a book where pretty much nothing happens. I had mixed feelings about it, since I didn't particularly like the characters, and found some of the things they did unrealistic, but you certainly get a feel for them.

    I've had Catcher in the Rye on my bedstand now for a few months, because I really need to re-read it. I read it twice, over twenty years ago, and recall absolutely loving it. I then read all of Salinger's other stuff and liked it all, as well. I want to read it again to see if I love it just as much as I did then, or if I'll be a tougher critic. I also have the biography of Salinger that came out a year or so ago (also in my to-read pile) and I want to read that and then read Catcher to see how his life influenced his work.
     
  7. Dannabis
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    Dannabis New Member

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    Thanks for the feedback :) the whole thing is something I've considered doing for a while and it's much easier writing something knowing that people wont turn their noses up at it. In fact, I think one of the most common barriers in writing is the fear that people will find a style/theme unacceptable.
     
  8. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Sometimes it is hard to discern a plot.

    Slaughterhouse Five barely has any of those.

    If by plot you mean chronological sequentiality,
    than no, it is not needed.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Any story that does more than paint a static scene has one or more plots. You can hardly avoid them. They may not make a lot of sense, but the dynamic of a plot (actor, goal, motivation, and opposition) is what drives events comprising the story line (the chronology of events).

    A storyline tells you what happened. Plots tell you why.
     
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  10. TemporalV01D
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    I think plot is pretty much unavoidable when telling a story, but there are plenty of stories out there where the focus is so distant from the plot that the plot becomes somewhat unapparent. Mostly these would be philosophical novels / short stories. An example I can think of is Cloud Atlas, where plots are definitely present, but unessential to the "message" or focus of the story. As for stories that pretty much lack plot (I can imagine something telling the day to day life of someone without any life goals as being such), there must be a definite focus on something other than story in order for it to be successful (for me, at least).
     
  11. Oswulf
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    Oswulf New Member

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    There is a great Monty Python sketch about a Proust summarizing competition. No one got more than a few pages into Swann's Way...
    Anyway, even Proust had a plot.
     
  12. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    In my humble opinion a story or book definitly needs a plot.
     
  13. Khaelmin
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    Khaelmin Active Member

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    Well, I've always thought that all books must have a plot. Even when I come upon one where the plot isn't obvious to me, I always think that I'm to blame, and I need to look harder. :)

    I remember not getting the meaning of this sketch until I actually started reading Proust. Painstakingly and with great determination, I finished 'Swann's Way' and made it halfway through 'In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower' when I finally realized I did not like Proust, so I quit. Although, in his defense, the books must be substantially better and more charming in their original French. The translation to Romanian must have decreased the quality somehow. As do all translations, I suppose.
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, of course, every story does need a plot -- something has to happen. The real question is how heavy must the plot be, and is the story more driven by plot -- i.e. a murder mystery, or is it more driven by characters, where the focus is more on a character's growth and change, usually precipitated by some conundrum, which may be a relatively minor event, but kicks off a lot of self-discovery or analysis and rumination, ala Catcher in the Rye. All stories need both plot and character development. The issue is really more one of emphasis.
     
  15. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like emphasizing both plot and character development. The balance of the two is what makes me want to read. Empty plots with no characters or watching characters go through doing absolutely nothing has absolutely no appeal to me.
     
  16. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Even if there isn't an explicitly stated plot, any story worth reading will have something happening in it. Isn't that what a plot is, things happening that make the story move forward? Even if it's hard to discern, most stories have plots. Even if they're something abstract, there still is a plot... I think...
     
  17. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You don't need meat to make a satisfying meal.
     
  18. neuropsychopharm
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    neuropsychopharm Active Member

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    Exactly. I recently was ripped on another site for having a story that "didn't go anywhere" when I intended on making it a character driven thing. And the thing is, it still went somewhere in my opinion! Fleshing out the characters should usually lead to something happening, huge or not.
     
  19. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel your pain, neuro. The same thing just happened to me. I had a short story where a character has a major epiphany, but at the end I didn't have him yet acting on it. When I saw complaints that it didn't go anywhere, I couldn't help but wonder, "really? Do I seriously have to spell everything out?" Maybe I do. Or maybe I needed to make things clearer. Or maybe it would be a more satisfying short by having the tidier resolution. But my thought was it was more interesting to have people wondering which way this character was going to go, and what they would do, etc. It's also possible I didn't have enough character development to keep the story satisfying enough to make up for the lack of a real action-packed plot.

    Oh well. I'll need to ruminate. You can't please everyone. But I do always seriously consider the criticism, even if I don't think I agree with it.
     
  20. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    I have a real talent for coming late to discussions. I think I may hold the record for last posts on another forum I participate in. But nonetheless...

    I am working on a sort of biography which definitely has a "plot" in the sense that the ending is dramatic and there is plenty in the preceding events that leads towards the conclusion. I am currently struggling with material that I find interesting but isn't particularly germane to the progression toward the finale.

    As a reader, I am rather impatient with authors who spend a lot of time on things they may find interesting but do nothing to move the story forward or even develop a character. On the OTHER hand... some of these authors have been very successful. I am leaning toward including possibly too much, then doing serious editing after I have the whole narrative finished.

    One problem is that since this is more of a memoir of someone than a full biography, the things I remember well are the easiest to write, and because I remembered them, they are incidents that mattered enough for me to remember. Separating out what I felt important enough to recall from what the reader would find interesting is my struggle.
     
  21. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    No im last. :D I have the same ability lol. I thought of changing my name to combo breaker
     
  22. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    I like how Cogito implies nested plots. Some stories need tangents. "I told you that to tell you this" type storytelling can do different things to different readers. I find it difficult to imagine a tale about a ship being dragged into a black hole that wouldn't have a plethora of sub-plots. Consider the series "Andromeda," or even "Star Trek" for that matter, written or cinematic. A sub-plot may engulf a sentence, a paragraph, a section or one or more chapters. The question is how much swirling can the reader tolerate? Are we circling them around the drain or shooting them up through a twister?
     
  23. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    The answer to my dilemma may be simply to connect the tangents a little more firmly to the main plot line, maybe a bit of foreshadowing here and there.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...if it's a 'memoir' and about incidents you remember, then it can't be a 'biography' which is about someone other than the author...

    ...but you call it a 'memoir of someone' which makes no sense unless you are ghostwriting a memoir for someone, then 'things i remember well' makes no sense...

    ...so, i'm totally confused... please set me straight?... which of these are you writing?

    = your own memoir/autobiography?

    = a memoir for someone else [= ghostwriting]?

    = a fictional memoir about someone else?

    or

    = something else entirely?
     
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  25. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    Okay, here's what I am writing. I am writing the story of my brother's life. He died in 2005 primarily as a result of his heroin addiction. I knew him better than anyone, but since he was not a public figure, I have nothing more to add other than talk to his friends, which I have done all my life. Some of the "book" is what other folks have told me, but mostly it is my recollections of him and his life. The focus of the book is my brother, not me, but I was both a significant character in his story and the person from whose point of view the story is told. Just what category it falls under is something I don't quite know.

    But to take some not-too-relevant examples, Bertrand Russell's daughter wrote a book about her father, and her life with him, as did Charles Dickens' daughter. Obviously they had the advantage of having a well known relative. To the extent I have any advantage it is the vantage point of someone who was there the subject's whole life, plus the sort of life my brother led, which isn't a tribute to a great man but a rather sordid story or a wasted life. I hope that explains what I hope to do.
     

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