Friday, September 18, 2009

The Plotted Life

E.M. Forster famously said about plot: "'The king died, then the queen died' is not a plot, but 'The king died, then the queen died of grief' is." This is because plot requires causality. It's not just one damn thing after another, it's one damn thing causing another.

Real life isn't always like that, but sometimes it does conform to the conventions of narrative. Yesterday I burned my finger on the stove, bad enough to cause severe blistering. Because of that, I immersed my finger in ice water for two hours. Because of that, I was bored not touching anything, so I attempted to play on-line chess with my chess partner, Marty. This caused water to drip from my finger, which I took out of the ice water to make each move, onto my computer mouse, which caused the mouse to short out. Before the mouse died completely, it was difficult to control, which caused me to inadvertently send the wrong version of my Mars story to Jonathan Strahan in Australia -- a version that lacked not only a title but an ending. Then the queen died of grief.

All this has been straightened out this morning (except my finger). That, too, is a plot requirement. Or, as my grandmother used to say: Finish what you started.

The two guidelines for plot: causality and resolution. Why does it sound so much simpler than actually doing it?

6 comments:

Lost Wanderer said...

Ah yes, sounds so simple, that's the problem. It's like "show not tell" - simple enough, until you try to do it.

Good post though, and great example. It's amazing how you can turn a burned finger into a writing craft example. :)

Jack said...

Imagine what she could do with a major wound or a broken leg!

Jyoti Mishra said...

This is one of the best things I've ever read online. And it's all killer, no filler. Thank you!

Mike Flynn said...

How Aristotelian....

If only Hume had not killed causality and said that it really is just one damned thing after another...

Maybe we can go whole hog to final causality, and say that the resolution was always inherent somehow (either directly or implicitly) in the initial cause, as Hamlet's death is implicit in his mother's remarriage.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

An SOS, gang.

I've just read on Joe Haldeman's TANGLED WEBSITE that Joe is in the hospital, having undergone major surgery. His wife Gay reports he's doing well. Still, Joe is 66, and was =very= badly hurt as a Combat Engineer in Viet Nam...

I hope you'll join me in sending thoughts, prayers, and good vibrations Joe's way.

They do help.

Thanks, Bluesman Mike

bluesman miike Lindner said...

An SOS, gang.

I've just read on Joe Haldeman's TANGLED WEBSITE that Joe is in the hospital, having undergone major surgery. His wife Gay reports he's doing well. Still, Joe is 66, and was =very= badly hurt as a Combat Engineer in Viet Nam...

I hope you'll join me in sending thoughts, prayers, and good vibrations Joe's way.

They do help.

Thanks, Bluesman Mike