‘Plot-driven’ is a damning phrase to use about a book. Plot is looked down on like an uncouth acquaintance who walks into a restaurant when you’re having a meal with someone you want to impress. It’s no good looking in the other direction, because here comes embarrassing old Plot, marching up to your table, talking too loudly, completely failing to understand that you’re in literary company now, you’re focusing on the telling details of human relationships, you’re busily crafting exquisite sentences. Plot wouldn’t know an exquisitely crafted sentence if the head waiter brought it to his table on a silver platter.
But the truth is that Plot is the one who keeps the restaurant in business. Plot pays the bills. Plot comes up trumps. And you and I both need Plot because there is nothing worse than a manuscript without a plot. I’ve read a few in my time, as it happens. And written some.
All too often a writer gets a good idea for a book and they’re off writing like a dog after a rabbit. They don’t wait to think the whole thing through because they’re so keen to explore the story; to discover the characters; to let the structure develop; to see how the characters interact with the structure; to have fun with the language; to tell their friends that they’re working on something; to hint that they think this one might be good; to add, given any encouragement, that it might even be the one.
Of course they don’t know how it’s going to end yet but they have a kind of inkling and they’re really enjoying the writing; and that, after all, is what it’s all about. Isn’t it?
Then at last, after months of toil, they get to the end and, reading through the whole thing again, they do have to admit that the plot might be a bit thin in places. But, hey, it’s only a first draft, after all.
You know what? It’s much easier to improve the language, the characterisation, the setting (almost anything actually, other than the plot) in the second draft. Those are all things that can be relatively easily tweaked but try sorting out a manuscript when you’ve committed yourself to a plot full of holes.
There’s only one real way to do it and that’s to start all over again. And that is soooooo painful, especially after you’ve told all your friends that this might be the one; soooooo hard to even contemplate after all those months of work, that it’s easier to ignore those nagging doubts and just work on the manuscript you’ve got, polishing the language, honing the characterisation, adding depth and lustre to the setting until it’s really a very good piece of writing indeed.
Except for one thing - the plot stinks like a dead donkey.