Friday, October 15, 2010

Learning to Think: A Study on Plot

It's amazing the thoughts that come while waiting for the commuter train before dawn. To keep awake and distracted from the chill, I pulled out The Vagrant Mood, essays by Somerset Maugham, the chapter on Kant, whose  goal was to "teach his students to think for themselves" and who didn't like it when "they busied themselves … to write down his every word." And then I thought about plot.

Rather than knowing all that will happen in a story from the get-go, it's more important to consider the story as you go along, to retain a balance between having a plan and knowing that plans changemost often and best because of what happens within and among the people in the story. This is the organic approach.

Road to Milano
As Peter Selgin notes in 179 Ways to Save a Novel, writers often wonder how far head to plot. The query is similar to when a writer states with great authority (and misguided control), "I have to get the character to do this, or that." Here, the control factor is likely too rigid, as Selgin notes, as if plot were "a separate process, an independent act of volitiona verb that we force into our stories, rather than a noun that grows out of the process of writing them." Usually, the real question is how much a writer needs to know about what happens next. The answer, as Selgin notes, is "not that much."

Learning to think while writing is key, to bring a mindfulness to the process, because plot, especially in novel writing, isn't knowing all that will happen in a story from beginning to end, but knowing that things of consequence must happen to make a story a story and that even if nothing of apparent consequence happens, the piece must be written well enough, and usually better, to truly make it a story.

No comments: