Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reading for the Writing

It happened again today. A friend mentioned the title of a novel I'd read recently.

"Did you enjoy it?" he asked.
"Very much," I replied. And I had.
"What's it about?" he asked.

And that's when it happened. Even though I had read the book less than two months ago, I wasn't able to provide much more information other than the uninteresting and unhelpful fact that I'd enjoyed it. Plot? I might have been able to scare up a sentence or two. Names of the main characters? Gone. 

Certainly every novel needs a plot, with interesting characters developed in memorable ways. When it all works together well, it's like a wonderful symphonic piece. But what I remember most about reading a good novel is the experience of it: the author's word choice, the variety a rhythm of the sentences, the emotional impact evoked from what is written and, importantly, left unwritten.

Do you suffer from forgot-the-plot syndrome?


  1. Absolutely. Sometimes I've wondered if it was a symptom of reading so many novels that they all blend together. I've chastised myself for reading too fast, though I know I often reread delicious paragraphs and linger over word choice. I always remember whether or not I loved a book and can always say why I loved it. I am more shy about repeating why I didn't like a book, especially one I remember few details about, but a bad impression sticks around too. I agree that it is the experience of reading and the emotions that are sparked that I remember years after reading. I thought it might be a more common reaction of women because my husband, who reads far less, remembers much more. I'm very glad to know that another writer, and a male one, owns up to forgetting characters and plot. I feel a bit less dysfunctional now, or at least less lonely!

  2. I'm guessing there are a lot more like us out there, Eleanor. Thanks for coming by!

  3. Your "cousin" Stephen has lots to say on plot, or more accurately, the lack thereof. He rightly, in my opinion, feels that plot is secondary to narrative, character, etc. - or as he says, "I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible."

  4. What does HE know about story telling, Mike? But I happen to agree... mostly... with him.