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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

March 31, 2012

To answer the latter, I’ll refer you to the ‘About Me’ page on the site. It’s the former we’ll concern ourselves with.

My friend Ally posted something on her blog recently that got me thinking. You can read the entire thing here. But I’ll give you the central problem in her words:

“Does it occur to us that we read the same plots (according to one of the books on my shelf, there are only seven) over and over again? …Do we care if it’s the same trite story and stock characters as long as it’s a really good trite story and engaging stock characters?”


It’s common for writers (myself included) to really wrestle with this stuff from time to time. It’s difficult trying to merge one’s own artistic expectations with reader expectations and even the demands of genre and narrative conventions. Is my story original? Hasn’t it all been done before? Well, let me remind you of something…most of Shakespeare’s work was derived from previous sources. Did this make him any less great? Okay then. So let’s stop fussing about plots and start thinking about the things that make our work distinctive. The elemental things: image, dialog, prosody, action, description, etc…The nuts and bolts of the craft, if you will.

And that’s what I intend to do here. So, here’s what I propose. Once a week I’ll choose an elemental aspect of writing craft along with a salient example or two and break things down to their core components. Sound fair? You are, of course, free to agree or disagree with what I have to say and/or pick and choose what you will apply to your writing. The important thing for me is that we stop worrying about plots and concentrate on the things that make our writing interesting.

“What?!” I hear some of you saying. “Plots are exciting! An interesting plot is what makes a story great…” To which I say BULLSHIT. Plots are never interesting. When you discuss a good movie or a good book, do you discuss plot? No. You discuss the interesting stuff. The dialog, jokes, images, scenes, the characters. That’s the good stuff. And as a writer, as the maestro, you need to be thinking of these things. How to be in command of them, how to modulate language to create suspense, fear, outrage, laughter, outrage, and relief in a reader.  So, yes, that’s it. No more talking about plots here. Agreed?

Great. Which brings us back to Ally’s questions. How would I answer her if won’t talk about plot? Tell you what. Let’s use that as our starting point next week. But to give you an inkling as to where I’m headed, I’ll leave you with this F. Scott Firzgerald quote:

“Action is character.”

See you next week. 



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  1. Well said, Cris.

  2. I like this approach, Randy, and looking forward to your observations.

  3. Will be looking forward to that installment. The story is in the telling. The telling is in the writer.

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