Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Plots and episodes - How we recollect what we've read
Read a good piece in vulture.com - Christopher Laurentzen? - on the importance, or not, of plot. Noted that plot is what keeps us moving forward with, engaged in, a work of fiction (or of literature, if you want to include drama) - and plot is how we try to "recall" or recollect a novel we've read (or film we've seen) as will be evident in about 90 percent of the posts on this blog. But plot is also what we least remember about a novel, it's least significant element - what we really remember are characters, mood, setting, style - all the ancillary aspects, and the most elusive, those that make the work what it is. CL spoke about Aristotle, still one of the greatest of literary critics, hard as that is to believe, who ranked plot - he called it "action" - as the most significant literary element - but then again he had an extremely narrow view of action: a true tragedy should have one unifying action, he said, and yes that's still true, in many genres - an action that involves a collision of forces, that forces the "hero" to make a choice that will define his or her character. Today we talk about the arc of the story, a Hollywood term that does apply well to traditional fiction, and of course, as CL notes Aristotle was scornful of the episodic. With good reason in some instances - episodic novels involve a series of events with nothing holding them together into a unified work of art other than that they involve the same characters or setting. We are much more open to this structure today - especially in the era of episodic television (CL makes the point that, if you binge-watch any of the great series you will see how all kinds of flaws in the structure - they don't hold up as well as novels, by their very nature - collaborative, commercial, seasonal. That's one reason I don't binge watch!) I recollect a woman in a writing group I belonged to who wrote some emotional, lyrical stories in rather exotic settings - but nothing happened. Criticized for that, she said she wasn't really interested in plot. After a painful silence, one of the members (a poet, as it happens), noted wryly: Readers like plot.