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10 August 2012 @ 03:09 pm
further on rookie mistakes  

In comments on that last post, someone said: “I would like to read what you think should be thrown away. I’m not sure I’d agree.”

Here’s the thing: you’re right. You wouldn’t agree. But you would be wrong.

I have written entire books without plots. I am a good enough writer that I can almost get away with that, and without an editor who wouldn’t let me, in one case, I would have. And that’s what’s wrong with what I’ve been working on: I had something that looked like a plot, but it wasn’t really. It was interesting, entertaining encounters between characters. Some exciting things happened. Reading it would have been fun.

But if I wrote the whole book that way, a reader would enjoy reading it and get to the end and feel like something was missing. They wouldn’t know what exactly, just that it didn’t feel quite right, and they’d keep looking at it trying to figure out what was wrong and they wouldn’t be able to quite put their finger on it.

Which is essentially what I’d been doing in the 6 weeks I’d been working on the book. The really critical thing, though, is if I pushed through and wrote that plotless book and, God forbid, an editor let it slide on through to publication…

…then I would be leaving my readers disappointed, even if they couldn’t quite put their finger on why. And if I did that, then next time a book of mine came out they might say, “Eh, meh, the last one was okay but I donno, maybe I’ll wait a while until I get this one…” and that’s one way careers are destroyed.

It’s really not that what I was writing wasn’t well-written, or even unreadable. It’s that ultimately it wouldn’t have provided a satisfying reading experience, and *that* is why it had to be thrown out.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

Wolf Lahti: Arcticawolflahti on August 10th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)

I've always been able to write well from a technical standpoint. I don't have the problems that all the writing guides dwell on, such as apt phrasing, creating realistic characters, pacing, atmosphere, and so forth.

For much of my writing career, my problem was that I did not recognize when I was lacking a story. It seems like a pretty fundamental thing to have missing, but as your post points out, competent writing can cover up the fact that a series of events strung together does not a story make.

I see a number of beginning writers coming along with the same problem, and I don't know how to help them recognize when they do not have a genuine plot. The closest I've come is hammering the difference between "This happens, then this happens, and then this happens" and "This happens, therefore this happens, but then this happens".

But I need something more.
kitmizkit on August 10th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, exactly. I've gotten better over the years at recognizing a concept as opposed to a plot, especially for when I'm trying to put together a short story, but this one blindsided me. I thought I had a plot. I was wrong.

On the positive side, I got restarted today with an actual plot, so that's something...
anthony_lionanthony_lion on August 10th, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. There's already way too many plotless books on the market.
Half the books in The Wheel of Time series, anything by Ursula K. Leguin, 98% of all fan-fiction...

So make certan to eradicate every copy of that plotless story. We wouldn't want anyone to find an 'unpublished manuscript' during an attic cleanup a century in the future and publish it to drag your name into the dirt.
Happens all the time with deceased rock muscians; someone digs out discarded studio tapes and edit them together to make a 'new' album...