Thursday, July 16, 2009

I DON'T CARE ABOUT PLOT

A REFLECTION

I often talk to people about writing. Interestingly, I rarely get consistent advice. Some people say I should write less. Others say I should revise more. Still others think I should take everything I’ve written, put in on paper and turn it into a book. A few have even said I should write a novel. Basically, I can’t possibly accommodate all these suggestions at once. If I did, I would be contradicting myself.

I still learn from these conversations, even if I cannot follow them all. Most importantly, I have learned that “blogging” might not be the best medium for my writing. I turned to blogging without really knowing what it was. I just wanted a regular forum in which to post my thoughts, satires and views. My blog provided the discipline I needed to keep writing, as well as to develop coherent themes. After writing several hundred pages, however, I began to see that most “blogs” are not really “literature-based” or even “text-based.” To the contrary, many “popular blogs” are more picturebook than book. One successful blogger told me that internet users don’t want to read. Rather, he said they want to check, peruse, skim and maybe type LOL. He said that if I wanted more hits, I would have to write much, much less—and post more pictures.

This depressed me. I had more faith in people than that. I believed that people want more from life than to look at pretty pictures and laugh. I know that I like to read provocative essays and stories. I thought that people felt the same way. The day after hearing the successful blogger’s advice, I thought I had failed. But my spirit soon rebounded. No matter how well picturebooks work for the “successful blogger,” they don’t work for me. I declared my independence from “internet thinking.” I apologize to everyone who can’t read a page for more than 20 seconds, but I don’t write twitter-sized bites. If you want vacuous brevity, you won’t find it here. I write here as if I were writing a book. I am laying bare my thoughts about issues I care about. I can’t do that in 140 characters or less. If that makes me unpoetic, so be it. Still, I never feel that I waste words. I might write a lot, but only because there is a lot to say about important questions. Style is essential to me. It just isn’t a 4-word-per-sentence/quarter-page style.

I do not mind being an outlier. I eschew convention in most life matters, anyway. It should not surprise anyone that I defy internet convention, too. Nonetheless, I can be realistic when I need to be. I understand that my content would find better expression in paper form. In that light, I plan on printing out everything I write here, tightening it up and transforming it into a printed package. I like seeing words on paper more than on a screen. That might show my age. But it also shows my belief. I don’t shrink from it. I only have one opportunity to say how I really feel today. When I write, I take that opportunity. In this sense, I am taking the advice to turn my blog into a book.

This does not mean I will close the blog. To the contrary, the blog is my laboratory. Here, I merge my creative impulses with discipline. The blog gives me a ready forum in which to post my thoughts immediately after formulating them. That is a fantastic resource. My ideas first see light on the blog. I let them season here, then decide whether to tinker with them further. Ultimately, the well-seasoned stuff will make it into the book, with revisions and probably some additions. I want my book to present a relatively coherent picture about my views. To that extent, my blog archive is a huge help. In some sense, I have already categorized my thinking in many areas. I don’t like to say I am a categorical person. But I won’t deny that I can “categorize” subjects I like to write about.

I will not write a novel. At least, not a traditional one. I won’t write a novel because I don’t like writing plots. Plots are too ordinary for me. I will only dream up a plot to the extent necessary to create a framework for satire. I have always resisted entreaties to “think up cute stories” or “love tales.” I can understand why some people suggest this, because most “literature” and “entertainment” centers heavily on plot. Audiences take comfort in “exciting stories” about men, women, events, romances, turnarounds, developments and resolutions. Trash novel writers make millions writing insipid plots lines and banal dialogue. They know what people want. Plot pays.

But I need more than plot to get excited about writing. I need messages. I need criticism. I need observations. I need irony. I need opinion. I need ambiguity. If I want plot, I can watch the news or buy the New York Post. Plot is ordinary. It is about who, what, when, where and how. This is not to say that great novelists do not weave messages, criticism and observations into their plots. Dostoevsky did that masterfully. But that’s why they were “great novelists;” they did not just recite a plot line. The difference between “literature” and “plot writing” is the ability to make lasting observations about humanity while entertaining the audience with a good story.

Yet literature does not sell as well because it is harder to read: Grisham will outsell Dostoevsky any day. In that sense, literature mirrors the problems I face contending with “internet convention.” Internet reading parallels “plot reading.” Like plot readers, conventional internet readers want quick, easy-to-follow “factual” reports about people and events. Facebook and Twitter prove this. Most internet writing—and many blogs—discuss what some random individual “does” on a certain day; and there is nothing profound about it. “I went shopping.” “I saw Kim.” “Billy is soooo cute XD XD.” “OMG I have a math test next period.” This is internet writing. It is “plot-like.” It is easy to read. It does not dwell on lasting issues, nor is it intended to make a rhetorical impact. It just tells you what someone is doing. If you don’t know the person, you can be forgiven for saying: “Who the fuck is this and why should I care if they got a haircut today?”

I have the same reaction when I read plot-based writing. What do I care? What does this writer want to say? If I do not have an emotional or intellectual connection to the events being described, there is no reason why I should follow it. Hollywood makes money on plot by interspersing routine events with explosions, good-looking people, violin flourishes and special effects. But without the bells and whistles, most Hollywood plots are instantly forgettable. They don’t really say anything. They just provide easy-to-follow entertainment.

When I write, I consciously try to avoid that fate. I do not want my writing to last only for the brief moment in which I write it. I want it to make a statement on an issue that will be just as important next year as it is today. That is why I don’t write plots, unless I am satirizing conventions that use plot. I acknowledge that my writing may not achieve great “popularity” because it does not spin plots, but that does not bother me. I am content to put my beliefs, impressions and thoughts on paper. I comment on issues that confront us all. In the process, I challenge my own assumptions; in the end I usually conclude that I know very little. I prefer ideas to events, even though events in many cases provide the philosophical fodder for ideas. I take my time in developing ideas. If it takes five pages some days, then I write five pages. I cannot squeeze them into Twitter-sized morsels. That is just the way I write.

As always, I am thankful for everyone who takes the time to savor what I write. I know it takes time. I certainly make no claim to be a great writer, nor do I want fame. I just know that I care deeply about transcendent issues that go beyond “what I’m doing today.” It makes me feel good to inscribe my thoughts upon them, if for no other reason than to say: “This is what I believed; it doesn’t matter whether it’s right.” Whether I attack issues satirically or ponder them in an essay, my attitude toward them is the same. Genuine issues deserve genuine discourse. I use my blog to generate that discourse. I am developing a way to look at the world. I am using my time to understand what I really think. Amazingly, I really did not know that until I started writing in earnest.

I never would have discovered my own thoughts if I just wrote plots. That’s why I don’t like them. They contribute nothing to self-discovery, enrichment or individual personality. They just pass time. And we don’t have much.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Write what you enjoy writing.

Cyrus

Timoteo said...

J.K. Rowling and Danielle Steel and their ilk write drivel and make millions from it...but do they deserve it?
Writing with substance, integrity, and purpose at least allows one to feel right with his own conscience-and I do think that blogging gives those of us who aren't obscenely overpaid hack writers the best opportunity to reach our largest potential audience.

Balthazar Oesterhoudt said...

I couldn't agree more with these responses. For me, writing is a way to set forth my conscience, as well as my subjective take on the world. It does not depend on fabricated stories or plots. Yet I think it can be as imaginative as any fantasy book; I consciously try to infuse my writing with slightly (if not very) uncomfortable immediacy. I would really like it if my satirical targets read my satires, like the Bar Examiners, the Republicans, bankers and assorted other powerful hypocrites.

J.K. Rowling is a perplexing character. From what I understand, she has become a completely arrogant bee-otch who sues anyone who quotes her a tad too much without giving her royalties. I did a post about her a while ago.

And yes, Cyrus, I will always write what I enjoy writing! Enjoyment is the key word in my life. If it doesn't bring joy, it's just costing you time.