Plot Tidiness

There is a scale on how much authors streamline their fiction. On one extreme  end you can have a plot that is loose, where every scene doesn’t  kill three birds with one stone (plot, character progression, show world building) and may only kill one. Messily.  This results in plots that seem as if they can go any direction, and tend to be editors’ worst nightmares, because they are in danger of having no  story, or if the plot does exist, it may never reach its destination. Done wrong, these feel like rough drafts and are generally mocked as such.

On the other end of the spectrum is streamlined fiction.  Every scene is polished to shining, well-oiled, and heads directly towards the climax(es) and the book’s end.  This generally ends up feeling like a Railroad of Destiny, where there is little choice but for characters to end up where they do. Even if the plot is original it still tends to feel predictable due to how much the author/editor trim the shrubbery along the way. Done wrong, these stories feel overworked until there is no spark left. However, elitist authors and editors tend to feel it is a mark of craft on how whittled down their plot is.

I have read fiction from both ends of the spectrum, but I tend to write (and long for) fiction that comes more in the middle.  I want my characters to feel free, to end up on whatever path they may.  I want my fiction to feel as loose and unpredictable as life, but to still feel like the characters are carving and shaping their own destiny from that unpredictability.  I want them to grow, have epiphanies, make miracles happen, and change their world.  To do so, they must walk a path, but it doesn’t have to be paved.

2 responses to “Plot Tidiness

  • Joe Vasicek

    Whenever I write, I feel like Paul Maud’Dib in Dune, who could see the future but only bits and pieces of it, much the way you can only see the crests of distant waves when you’re floating around in the ocean (and that only when you’re at the crest of one of those waves yourself). I often figure out where the novel is going to end, but I have no idea how it’s going to get there until I actually sit down and write it. Often, the middle ends up going in way different directions than I’d planned, spawning new characters and subplots all over the place. But all the time, I have a very clear idea where it’s going to end up, and somehow it always works out. It’s awesome.

  • M.

    I was going to quote one particularly beautiful line and rave about how cool it was, but then you kept on having more particularly beautiful lines and now I can’t pick!! 😀 Even your blog writing is gorgeous, ma’am. You are so dang talented. ^____^

    I think you’ve described an excellent balance here, though. One of my least favorite things in a book is when I can call what’s coming next from chapters away. One of my most favorite is when I think I’ve called what’s coming next, and then the characters completely surprise me, while still staying inside the bounds of what makes up that character’s personality. It’s a hard line to find, but I think the best, most enjoyable stories come from finding it!

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