11 July 2009

Literary Fiction and Plot

A writer requests help for her character-driven, literary masterpiece and then spends our time together moaning fears of how the use of plot corrupts her literary pursuit. She worries what the professors in her graduate program will say.

Having just finished reading two award-winning literary novels: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Run by Ann Patchett in quick succession, I wonder how many literary novels the writer in question has read. She is confused about what plot really is and how useful to any writing endeavor.

In the Elegance of the Hedgehog, not only do the two main characters move from living in their head to their hearts at the arrival of a mysterious stranger, the book finally develops a plot and becomes an actual page-turning story. And, it is precisely then, when the two character's open their hearts and begin to express actual feelings beyond spite and bitterness and resentment and judgement of others and look inward to the part they themselves play in creating their own misery that the reader in turn begins to emotionally connect to the characters and, finally, care desperately about what happens to them.

The publisher of Run, Jonathan Burnham of HaprerCollins, says of the New York Times bestseller, "The story, although it's intricately plotted, is really driven by the characters." (NOTE: isn't all great fiction???) Yes, we love the characters Ann Patchett breathes life onto the page. But, what makes the book impossible to put down is due to her amazing plotting skills (she is the mistress of plot twists).

When did plot get such a bad name in literary circles? Why the intense fear that creative writing withers and dies within plot and structure?