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I was going to write something pithy about how books aren't as much… - Silicon Rose — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Silicon Rose

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[Jun. 16th, 2005|07:13 pm]
Silicon Rose
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I was going to write something pithy about how books aren't as much fun (neither are movies or video games, for that matter), but I don't think I can write it all out without sounding arrogant.

Suffice it to say that even when I'm surprised, these days, usually I'll look back and say "well, of course it had to be that way." And if it's not a good one, I'll see the plot twists coming, just because of how books/screenplays/etc. are written. I find that really frustrating. Reading things in foreign languages is a little different, because while many of the elements of stories are similar, they're different enough to surprise me more often.

I've got an idea for a three scene short story I'm thinking of writing. It's drama with a science fiction aspect. I'm wondering whether I should give in and sketch it out quick, or just keep my focus on Familiar.

Probably lean in the direction of the latter, I guess. Maybe if I get writer's block.

[User Picture]From: froborr
2005-06-19 05:17 pm (UTC)

Much longer post than I intended

Sort of. The way I see it, *all* good stories need a good plot as a backbone. And any good plot is driven by what the characters want, and how they interact with the impersonal forces or other characters that block their way. So this silly division between "character-driven" and "plot-driven" is completely ridiculous.

HOWEVER... plot is not the end-all and be-all of stories. It is, as you said, generally predictable, because satisfying plots fall into particular patterns. If you depart too far from those patterns, the plot starts to feel like it doesn't hang together... and once you've learned the pattern, plot twists just aren't as surprising or as interesting any more. You can still be surprised -- I predicted how Minority Report was going to end 15 minutes in, for example. The movie followed my predictions through the whole thing, did exactly what I expected... and then followed it up with 20 more minutes of stuff I never saw coming.

Still, there are other things to enjoy in stories even after the plot is clear. There's character, of course... there's also quality of craftsmanship, things like wording, structure, the handling of point-of-view. There's world-building and originality of conception. Finally, there's the fact that stories can be fun without being at all surprising, if they draw you in well enough. Haven't you ever re-read something you liked? No surprises there, but it's still enjoyable.

There's a Margaret Atwood short story whose title escapes from me, but the gist of it is a series of summaries of different stories about two characters. In some, they fall in love, in others, they fall out of love, in others, they survive floods or are spies. And they all end with the characters dying, sometimes of old age, sometimes of something else -- but "John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die." She argues that no other ending is honest, because that's how all stories ultimately end in real life, and finishes up (I'm trying to quote as best I can, but I'm going to get some of this wrong) by saying, "That's it for Plot. Never very interesting anyway, just a What and a What and a What. Now try How and Why."
My last example: the plot of NGE is, frankly, pretty stupid. Poorly-explained monsters attack, and children in poorly-explained giant things kill them. Then the world ends for some poorly explained reason, and everybody, or almost everybody (it's poorly explained) dies. The end. What makes NGE great is the How and especially the Why.
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