If you’re not sure what my somewhat cliched subject line has to do with the topic this week at the Night Bazaar — which I take to be “How are novels plotted?” — then it may be news to you that I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer.
That’s why, when it comes to long works (novels in particular, but also screenplays) I find that have to do a lot of rewriting. When I’m cooking along with my imagination on overdrive, I need to run with the aesthetic choices that guide me toward the next open door.
However, some doors lead to treasure troves, and some lead to storerooms full of canned peas.
I think seat-of-the-pants writing is very important, but it can’t account for everything involved in making a novel a satisfying reader experience — unless you’re an absolute flippin’ genius when it comes to plotting, or a very careless writer who gets away with it for whatever reason. (James Elroy, for example, can be incredibly careless in his plotting at times, but I don’t give a damn because I enjoy the ride.)
As a reader I hate hitting a weird, inexplicable stretch in a novel that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the book, and I see this as indicating a writer who didn’t take a hard enough look at their own work (hard enough for my taste, mind you — they may be perfectly happy with it). I enthusiastically agree with Kameron’s experience of being annoyed when writers wander off into some peripheral story thread — for instance, the experiences of a character I don’t give a damn about.
Within SF and Fantasy, series writers are particularly guilty of this. Not really being a series writer (yet), I nonetheless sympathize with them. They’re expected to come up with this giant narrative that calls to mind the stirring, sweeping pathos of history. Tell a Big Story and you’re golden, right? You’re expected to take your time “developing the world” and “getting to know the characters.” Then suddenly, bam! Readers are complaining about plot?