|These guys did it with music, why can't authors with books?|
Having just finished reading a book, I was trying to decide whether to write a review or a rant when I realized any review I’d produce would quickly become a rant, and, more importantly, that writing a review generally requires there be an actual story involved. Well, I think you can already tell by the tone of this post which way I went.
So, what happens when you write a story that basically has no plot? The book I just read, Beautiful Disaster, was kind of just that. Beautiful is a bit strong, but the writing was actually just about what it needed to be for the genre, the characters were all fairly interesting, and the dialogue was appropriately cheesy but not so much as to trigger adult-onset lactose intolerance. The greatest, glaring, most disasterous omission was the lack of plot. I won’t say there wasn’t a story, because the book began, it proceeded, and then it ended. There were even pieces of plot scattered through out like breadcrumbs dropped by an ADD author who had every intention of following them to some meaningful twist or emotional conclusion along the way. But that never happened, so now I come to the aspect of this book that actually fascinated me the most:
The manufactured drama!
See how I put that out there by itself and even added … wait for it … an exclamation point!?! Try drawing the words out, emphasizing different syllables. Say it the way Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock says ‘Actor!’ Get it real dramatic-y. See how you still don’t care? That’s the manufactured part ruining the whole effect. I learned an important lesson as a writer while reading this book, and it’s that you can’t elicit emotion with manufactured drama.
Manufactured drama, by my definition, is the addition of a scene or event for the sole purpose of creating friction or tension or changing the dynamic between characters. Now, scenes and events are actually the conduits for much natural drama in a story, but the key seems to be in how you get to the scene or event. When the scenes are just hung together, one after another, like a long string of paperclips, or an event has no significant or meaningful place in the timeline of the story, that’s when the drama seems to fall flat. It’s kind of like the difference between buying a photo album with the little slots in it that say ‘place photo here’ or building a scrapbook from scratch, adding all the little mementos, handcrafted decorations, and trinkets from your cross country vacation to every page. I want the trinkets.
Is it enough to have interesting characters that say the things they need to say within environments that suit the needs of what they’re saying and doing? My conclusion is no. This book is not an adventure, not speculative fiction, not even a cozy mystery, but that does not exempt it from the basic requirement of having a current of plot below the underlying relationships that are the emphasis of the book. The question ‘Will they or won’t they?’ that morphs into ‘Will they or won’t they forever?’ is not a plot. It’s not enough to carry the weight of overwrought emotion oozing out of an industrial sized pipe on the side of the drama factory producing this story. To give all of that meaning, you need a clever, engaging, and even self-supporting plot to carry along the characters, to make you care about their journey and feel like you’re getting somewhere during the read.
Factories are great for mass-producing tootsie-rolls, ho-ho’s, peeps and other super sugary confection. They don’t have the finely tuned equipment for crafting a story that will keep you from feeling hungry again an hour after you’ve consumed it.