THE PLOT YOU’RE USED TO VS. PLOT YOU MIGHT COME TO LOVE

a-life-she-loved.jpgI don’t care much for your typical western (read American) story plot—that predictable rise and fall of action where something big happens—what we in creative writing circles call “conflict,” whereby someone or something then, godlike, swoops in to save the day. Where one character is vilified and one is the hero. We’ve read it over and over. We’ve seen it again and again in film. It’s old and worn out and you can’t really learn much from it, although one or two people still claim to be endlessly entertained by it.

My first novel, Dove Creek, is a case in point. After 45 rejections, an editor told me my story wasn’t “masculine” enough. That there was no “conflict.” (Really? She’s alone on an Indian reservation with two small children and there is no “conflict”?) So, I inserted a rape scene, added a rescue-by-romance, and viola! the book gets published and gets a place at a regional booksellers trade show.

Obviously, something is seriously amiss here.

I believe—and I’m not alone in this, just ask any writer of innovative fiction (note the term innovative), and there are many out there, and their numbers are growing—it’s simply a case of what we’re used to, what mainstream publishers and TV and film studios put in front of us to keep us wanting that inexplicable something, keep us hungry, keep us CONSUMING to try to make up for what’s missing. But how much more interesting and enlightening if we read and viewed in film version stories that simply are, moments in time, moments of poignant recognition of the small, with characters in the process of merely being, of getting through the day-to-day a little at a time, stopping once in a while to notice, to appreciate, to care, to navigate in a friendly way difficult interactions with the people around them, to forgive. Stories that explore the way we go about creating community, the way we are born, the way we love invisibly, the inevitable ways we arrive at our deaths, the way we seem designed to resist it all.

What would be wrong with us getting use to stories that in a not-too-lavish way reaffirm our right to a quiet, simple life? In other words, how about a little less hyper-stimulation, everyone?

Well, I don’t think a thing is wrong with that, which is why I’m recommending you read this great craft essay at Still Eating Oranges, hoping it will make you think about what story is and how story can be used to illuminate existence, to affirm and fulfill rather than simply entertain. Stories that amount to art that transcends, that retrieves us from our endless feedback loop, where we survive our existences numbed by all the various means, from drugs to technology, where we remain vaguely, if inexpressibly, dissatisfied.

The Signficance of Plot Without Conflict

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