aqua fortis

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Fear of Plot

I think I have a fear of plot.

Honestly. It's sort of a new-ish thing, but I have this fear that any plot events I might come up with will be boring, trite, or forced.

I could happily spend several pages describing people and their surroundings, their backstories, moving characters in and out as they talk about nothing much of critical significance. It's like the written equivalent to walking on a treadmill--it feels like I've really gotten somewhere, and there sure are a lot of words on that page. But I know in my heart that I need to have them say plot-relevant things, and I need to actually make them DO stuff.

That's the moment where I sit frozen, unable to think of anything that doesn't seem like it came straight out of something I just read earlier that month, or something overdone that I've seen a million times on TV shows, or something based on a classic story structure that everyone will immediately recognize and not want to read again.

For example, I'm writing this new short story that I quite like so far. The narrator is a guy working as a barista in a coffee house. I have this idea that during the course of the story, he actually serves as the vehicle for several mini-stories as customers come in and order from him. When I ask myself what the point of the story is, my brain returns with "something about interpersonal responsibility, the line between observer and actor, stepping out from behind the counter" and other high-minded-sounding drivel. But yes, I do have a point in mind, kinda sorta. But I can't think of actual story events which serve that ultimate purpose that don't seem nauseatingly dull or glaringly artificial.

I've only come up with two possible answers. One is that the premise or the setup might be inherently flawed—that is, maybe I'm having trouble because it's just plain lame to try to put a meaningful story behind the counter of a coffee house. The other thought I had is that maybe I just need to take one of the lame-seeming options and disguise the hell out of it with a cleverly devised disguise of good writing. If I can write well enough, nobody will ever know how lame it actually is, or won't realize until it's too late and they're done reading. Any other ideas? 'Cuz I'm out.


david elzey said...

You have to know I feel you on this front.

I've really had it with this notion of the Aristotlean chracter-driven, pyramid-structured narrative as the be-all end-all in fiction. What's the opposite? Why do people feel so uncomfortable outside of these narrow plot constraints?

There are very few moments of my life where I can say I set out with a goal and desire that needed to be resolved through specifically placed obstacles along the way. How many times do we get to the end of a journey and finally realize what it was all about?

I've had it described to me (thanks, Gwenda) as a character walking through one door after another until they reach the room they didn't realize they were looking for. I've also had it described as being like a hedge maze. We enter with the faith that we'll get to the center, but it isn't a straight path.

Write it. Question it later if it feels wrong, but if it feels right then that's all that matters. The again, sometimes the things that feel the most wrong are right in the end.

a. fortis said...

Thanks, David...It's always a relief to know I'm not the only one pondering these things.

What I can't seem to get used to is that every project feels so different in terms of the "right" approach. This is totally normal for visual art, but I can't seem to get used to doing the same thing in my writing.

DaviMack said...

You know ... there's a distinct drawback to being a good analyst: you see the flaws in your own work while you're creating the work. So, you're stuck in a vicious cycle of being able to see the flaws, but not being able to work through the flaws, because you can see them.

It's difficult to break.

You're not alone - although these cycles in my life have nothing to do with plot, but everything to do with being good enough to see the flaws, but not good enough at ignoring them to continue forward.

Good luck.