Goldie's Blog

Narrative lines. How important is the plot?

14 August, 2011 | By Goldie Alexander

I have recently read two adult best sellers and in this brave new world where it is increasingly difficult to sell books, I take my hat off to both authors. Both novels have been lauded in different ways, though the first, ‘Five Bells’, shortlisted by our local premier, had me worried. Though the novel’s prose is exquisite, every line a poetical revelation, the characters’ voices are so similar I had problems telling them apart. Nor could I believe that any male character could be such a wimp! And how did the Chinese lady know beforehand what was going to happen? Even though that picked up my interest, it was never explained. But my major problem was that though the novel is about grief in its many manifestations, there was no real story line, no plot so to speak, nothing to make me want to know ‘what happens next’?

The other novel ‘Room’, which has become a ‘cause celebre’ in Canada, certainly uses a remarkable voice to describe the narrow world where the narrator lives, a room where inanimate objects take on personalities of their own and are referred to in capitals. The idea, based on the kidnappings of young girls in Europe, certainly carried a narrative line. But I had to read half way into what is really a very long book for ‘something different to start happening’. Why do authors feel they have to write so much? With the ebook, I suspect this will become worse as there will be more books, less editors and no one around to prune.

Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to judge adult literary fiction. Nevertheless, that leads me to peruse the importance of the ‘narrative line’ when writing for youngsters. I don’t think anyone would dare write a novel or a short story for kids without a plot. Plots are universal. They occur in all our folktales. Imagine ‘Red Riding Hood’ without a plot. Where would we end the story? At the wolf lying in grandma’s bed? Would it consist of a description of how the wolf eats grandma? And how Red Riding Hood, while strolling through the woods admires every tree, mushroom and squirrel? Spare me! I know a lot of literary fiction aims to reduce narrative drive to a minimum. In the wake of Virginia Wolf and James Joyce, they prefer to set up a character or situation and play around with that. But even these works contained plots. Subtle ones maybe, but they exist. Doesn’t Bloom spend twenty-four hours battling monsters whose roots are based on the Odyssey?

So my advice to would be authors is to keep both plot and subplots firmly in your mind as you write and try not to be too clever. When it comes to kids, that kind of cleverness rarely works.

All this reminds me to add that my latest Grevillea Murder Mystery which absolutely no pretensions if literary fiction is now available in hard copy and selling at $25.00 plus postage. I do like the cover which was designed by Sylvia Blair of BookPod. here it is again.

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