What is a Novel Without a Plot?
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What is a Novel Without a Plot?

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What is a Novel Without a Plot?
Collin College

“I can’t read that shit,” a friend once told me. “It’s too convoluted. What’s the point of pleasure-reading if it’s just an extension of what I already do every day? When I read, I don’t want to have to think. I just want a story.” Two months, maybe more, have passed since I sat through this pithy diatribe, and yet, I have been unable forget these words spoken so harmlessly one arbitrary afternoon. The fact is that I feel myself personally affronted, and this, coupled with the feeling in the back of my mind that her assertion makes complete sense and must resonate with the majority of the population, cannot but incite within me a certain guilt, a confirmation of my naïveté. Surely, all that I have ever loved an worked for cannot be eradicated by a general trend of literature’s falling into disfavour?

I have been writing novels since the age of ten, when a tattered composition notebook became my newest obsession during recess in the fifth grade, when I should have been playing soccer on fields with my classmates. Yet I never felt lonely: my characters were always there for me, and eventually, friends would turn up in my more objective reality, eager to hear my stories read aloud. And at times I would read them quintessential stories: tales of wizards and dragons and telekinesis, whatever else my fantastical mind could think up back then; yet where I derived most pleasure would be from reading them my character sketches, fervent dialogues between two people that provided a window into the workings of the human being — years later, I would learn that there was a comprehensive term for this, the humanities.

As I grew older, my famed magicians fell into disfavour: my novels took on a bleaker tone, describing the hardships of everyday life, my observations of my surroundings, an internal monologue that morphed at times into a dialogue that quite resembled the maddening voices of a schizophrenic. I didn’t know what I was writing about, could not reliably describe anything to anyone of plot when asked what it was that I was toiling away at so devoutly; I knew only that my characters at times surpassed my own existence in importance. They would not do anything in particular: there were no quests to retrieve hallowed chalices or apocalyptic governments to overturn; there were only words, and thoughts, and minds. What I was writing was less a story than an exploration, an extended vignette into the lives of a select lucky few, which in turn would provide a glimpse into what it means to be a human being.

No, my writing may not have plot in the most basic sense of the word, but neither do some of my favorite novels of the twentieth century: Catcher in the Rye, The Sound and the Fury, The Bell Jar, Ulysses. Plot is perhaps a more archaic term we use to describe a clear-cut sequence of events that occur in a given work of literature; more recently, however, the advent of modernist literature has undermined our previous notions of the word plot, has arguably done away with it entirely. But that doesn’t mean these novels come without a story. These novels, my novels, introduce us to the idea that a story need not hold external validity: the stories we read about in character-driven novels are internal, psychological, vivid, and real. We learn to love these characters because of the depth we find within them, but such depth does not necessarily appear on the surface, and this, perhaps, is the source of frustration of many readers who do, indeed, just want a simple plot to follow. These readers are asking for a plot-driven novel, yet where I have found my niche is within the realm of the character-driven, where it is true that not much happens from the point of view of an objective observer, but oh so much occurs within.

So I tell people, I can’t really tell you what I write about. I write about people. If you want an easily-discernible plot, a tale of adventure, look elsewhere. People are complicated, and so is writing about people, the creation of characters, the understanding thereof. And yes, that will perhaps limit my reader-base if I do choose to publish commercially in the future. But the fact is that for anyone seeking an insight into the human mind, I hope that I will not disappoint.

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