The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Fussing about Plot: Literature Is More than Just a Story

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageIn all mediums CC2K covers – be it movies, books, TV shows, comics and even music to a degree – the first question we almost always ask is “What is it about?”, referring to the story, the plot, the narrative. Who does what to whom and why? That’s what you want to know when you read a review of the newest blockbuster or turn a book around to look at the jacket text to decide whether or not to buy it. Me, personally, I hate plot.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I want my movies, books and shows to be ABOUT something, but I hate how dominant the question of plot, of events, of “something happening” can be. I have found over the years that my favorite pieces of culture, especially in the world of literature, are primarily driven by atmosphere, character study and artful language. This is reflected in my own creative writing as well. For as long as I can think I have had the problem that my writing is very hard to categorize. Some of my pieces are fairly short, yet they aren’t short stories, because I seldom ever have any external plot.

And even though the language in my pieces has often been described to be poetic, I don’t use stanzas or verses, so it’s not really poetry either. I have turned to calling a lot of my writing “musings”, because most of the time they are about a certain feeling, a state of mind, a memory, a fraction of a moment.
When I looked into the world of literature for something comparable to what I write, the closest I found was the writing of Frank O’Hara. His poem “Mayakovsky” from the collection Mediations in an Emergency, which many of you might know from the prominent role it had on AMC’s Mad Men a few seasons back, is one of the most evocative, personal and utterly astonishing pieces of writing I have ever read.

See, what I look for is language that surpasses merely being made up of words. Consider this stanza of the poem:

“Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.”

ImageNow this is a case where words transcend their ordinary meaning and shed a tiny light on a bigger truth. I love language, especially when it is used like that. Interestingly enough, I hated all my linguistics classes in college, but now I find myself digging back into the topic and rummaging for the root of the magic of words.

Another example, perhaps: the reason why I consider Saturday by Ian McEwan one of my favorite books is not so much because he gave a voice to all those disquieting feelings we have living in a world in the firm grip of terrorism, but because he can write sentences like these:

“It’s as if, standing there in the darkness, he’s materialised out of nothing, fully formed, unencumbered. […]With no decision made, no motivation at all, he begins to move towards the nearest of the three bedroom windows and experiences such ease and lightness in his tread that he suspects at once he’s dreaming or sleepwalking. If it is the case, he’ll be disappointed. Dreams don’t interest him; that this should be real is a richer possibility. And he’s entirely himself, he is certain of it, and he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.”

Try finding any sentence even remotely as artful in your newest Twilight slush or even the formulaic thrillers of Dan Brown. There simply aren’t any.

What I appreciate in writing, what makes me love a piece of literature, is how artful the language is. I don’t care about a story with twists and turns and surprises nearly as much as I care about the words on the page being put together with great care and consideration. I want my authors to have something to say and not merely have something to tell, if you get what I mean.

ImageI am the same way when I listen to music. I may be the most lyric-centric music listener ever. Sure, I can enjoy a song that has a good melody, in fact, I can enjoy the hell out of a good melody, but ultimately all my favorite songs, singers or bands are excellent lyricists.
Words matter to me. I am endlessly fascinated how common words can come together and form new meanings, give new insights and transform into something entirely extraordinary.
I don’t even need the literature I read to be full of allegories, symbols, metaphors and all those fancy literary concepts our teachers have always bothered us with. Straightforward literature is quite alright with me, as long as it is aware of itself.

I want every word in the books I read to be there for a reason, to have a purpose. And if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be there.
Don’t get me wrong, I consume my fair share of perfectly inoffensive crime novels by Kathy Reichs or P.J. Tracy to entertain me before I go to sleep, yet these books never linger with me and are the first I will give away again.

The ones I keep though are the ones I can read over and over and always discover something new, always revel in the language and hence admire the authors for having the gift to come up with language so specific and yet so universal that it speaks to everyone who has ever thought beyond the plot. I wish there were more readers like that.

“It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.”
(from “Meditations in an Emergency” by Frank O’Hara)

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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