Thursday, September 08, 2005

Plot beware

Found a wonderful commentary in the Mumpsimus , based on a comment China Miéville made about his latest volume of short stories, which has a more "literary feel," according to critics. China says
"...one of the things you have the opportunity to do in a short story is to indulge a mood, an idea, a sensibility, rather than worrying too much about plot. So that makes it feel more 'literary', because you have the surreal/strange/dreamlike, but without the necessity of shots-ringing-out and the cavalry riding in. Then the next thing you know, people are comparing you to Borges. Cool."
Matthew Cheney then goes on to add:
"China then offers a quick equation for discussion, but it doesn't get much, and deserves a bit more: "Fantastic + plot = pulp. Fantastic - plot = literature".
All writers of genre fiction seem to suffer from this malady and rejection from so-called literary writers and readers. The Mumpsimus doesn't entirely agree:
"China's equation is, I think, more about perception than about reality -- it's an illusion that comforts both the lovers and haters of this thing we're calling "plot" (but which may, in fact, be something entirely else)."
What Cheney then explains is that plot for plot's sake is as much bad writing as plotless prose. What makes a piece of work interesting is a "love for language, metaphor, imagery, and small moments of psychological revelation," in addition to plot.

I love that: "small moments of psychological revelation." He continues to say that a story stands on its own when it is neither static (something that some readers and writers may take for literary style) nor so action-packed that the story becomes action for action's sake, without elegance.

As usual, Matthew Cheney has wowed me with his incisiveness, and his ability to express his thoughts so coherently. It is worth to go to his blog and read the entire commentary.

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