Thursday, May 26, 2011

Plot + Narrative = Story

It took me the longest time to work my way through the above three elements and come up with an understanding I can work with. The formula is my shorthand for that understanding.

Story is the knife edge at the top of a dune. Narrative is the particles of sand, the molecules of water if your story is a fast mover. Plot is the power moving it all along. Wind usually. The drag of the Earth's turning on the ocean. Or the Moon.

I read an excellent article yesterday, Against Story by Nick Mamatas on Book Life, discussing the propensity of readers who are addicted to plot. How a lot of people want 'a good story' and mean by that the same old same plot. The build-up, the problems, the crisis and the post-coital aftermath.

Where would the wave, the dune, the story be without their narrative? Just the wind roiling in eternal storms, probably. No place for life. All show and no spell. Even movies need their narratives. Look at Pandora, the amount of narrative that enriches Avatar.

Then there are novels such as The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. A fabulous fabulous read. But lots of narrative. I mean, don't go there if you can't bear detail. Or read it once for the story, then again for the detail. It works. The multiple endings would be another problem to readers who don't want anything but an uplifting denouement. Most of the human characters are left with ashes in their mouths, but after what living!

The dogs make it out. Most of them, anyway.

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