Plot, Shmot

by | Jun 3, 2007 | Approaches to Writing, The Great American Desert

In the past week I’ve gotten two virtually identical comments from readers of The Great American Desert: Beautiful writing, but where’s the plot? I may have it engraved on my headstone.

What do people want anyway? An adventure story? There are lots of true adventure stories out there. There are history books, too, and biographies. All of these kinds of books (and I’m very fond of history books) are crammed to the gills with plot, by which most people seem to mean action.

You know what? I find I’m already starting to repeat what I said in my last two entries on this over-rated topic.

Now, I have nothing against books with great plots. It’s just that I think it’s also possible to write a great book without one. A few examples:

Mrs. Dalloway: A woman gets ready for a party.

Heart of Darkness: A man takes a trip up a river.

Zuleika Dobson: Two people fall in love, and fall out again.

Passage to India: A man takes a woman on an excursion, and doesn’t assault her.

The Spire: A man starts an ill-advised remodeling project.

Each of these plots is enlivened with incidents along the way, but what really matters is that the plot and the incidents give the author an opportunity to explore human psychology.

Here’s another work of art without much plot:

Hamlet: A young man can’t make up his mind, then does.

Sure there are incidents along the way. But we don’t read Hamlet for the action. We read it for the psychology.