A guy on another blog asked about plots--this is writerly stuff--solly. But I got to explore this further. I fear I painted myself into an amatuerish corner with a comment I made. I'm not anti-plot. Every story has a plot of some sort; it's how organic it is to the characters which decrees whether it contributes or hinders the magic of discovery. I'm very journey-focused in life and in writin and reading. The closer I feel to the writer in the process of watching events unfold the more I like it. (I'm narcisistic that way--I like to recognize my own writing process in the books I read.) It's also a bit like being closer to God.
And to be clear: a plot doesn't mean you have an outline and pages of notes going into your first draft. It can be a vague vision of the journey and resolution that unfolds and is fleshed out as you go. Many successful writers (Stephen King, for one) write plotless, successful books. They let the plot emerge in revision. Others (Rowling) are heavily plotted ahead of time and their stories are none the worse for it.
Some of this debate had to do with typical plot format: crisis, rising tension, resolution, (you all remember that lopsided triangle from high school English class) verses more freestyle type stories which meander. I'm learning that I like to write freestyle stories--hell, fuck the rules!--but that my stories are better for having real, solid plots. That triangle really has more to do with "Does your character really have an issue? Does he know what it is? Is it bad enough to make the reader give a damn?"
You can have the most engaging cast in the world, but does your reader care if your protag gets a bullet in the thigh? Can he kill a couple of people and still be likeable? Or, we like them just fine, but are they just a tad boring 2/3rds of the way through the book? Odd to think of plot affecting those feelings, but a character who makes the same mistake over and over is as tiring as real people who do. Good plots help the character to grow and overcome their foibles. Pantzers (I hate that term, dunno why) write along and discover all this shit as they go (by "shit", I mean things like motivation and problems and resolve). It certainly makes for a good time. It does not always make for a good book.
I'm not entirely a pantzer (eh. shudder). I've usually got some solid problem for them and a vision of where their journey will take them. To me it comes in images. I usually have a couple of visions that I can't let go of which lead me to the resolution. Right now, for instance, I have to get Sean to the cliff-sided river, where his friend Jaim will be waiting below to save him, arms upstretched, all aglow in magic. It's a dumb image, but I can't argue myself out of it, and I know from experience that to disregard these signs or channelling, or whatever the hell it is, is no good.
But, since I didn't entirely think through the process before I began the book (I thunk and thunk but no thoughts came until I spent some time wandering around with my characters) I'm now at the end and unable to finish. I've got several elements--an atypical enemy who wants power because of typical job dissatisfaction, which mirrors my protags own dissatisfaction, a protag who will get the happiness he deserves in the end, a great cast of supporting characters, beautiful, engaging, likeable, all with their own motivations.
But something is missing; I can't finish the book, and I have to go through and reread to figure out why. Last night I figured out that Sean should and does just want to go home. He is home, but he doesn't know it yet. That's my contract with the reader, which I just realized. Sean wants to go home, and the reader should get to see him get there in some fashion. It's a small thing, but pivitol, and will change many things in revision.
The value of solid plot is that it ensures the contract between the writer and reader is met. I'm thinking a lot about this because I'm realizing I've not defined those terms in my latest book. It's all there, but I can't put words to it. Might be why I'm having trouble ending the damn thing, eh? I know what happens--just not why.
I will never write a more fun book than the first draft of my first one (an unplotted, meandering marvel), but I think for sure that it's my worst book. And as for the series: I always say that I don't yet have the expertise to write the story of those twins. It touches too many things: from confused kids who are not what they think they are and who must become greater than they can possibly imagine, to the implications of immortality, to what family really means, and to the most base nature of good and evil. I taught myself to write with those four books. Someday I will sell them, because I think they are great stories. But I've decided to start smaller. With Sean.
He's almost home. Wish him luck.