13 March 2013

Love Thy Plot as You Love Thyself; Or, How Focus is Only a Good Thing in Real Jobs

Today we'll be covering a book called Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which I picked up as part of the recent(ish) Humble Indie Ebook Bundle, and through it discuss the topic of plot and concept. Zoo City is an en medias res exploration of a world in which people are given superpower-granting spirit animals as evidence of their misdeeds in life which begrudgingly contains a gumshoe-style murder mystery plot. I know that description of the world makes it sound kind of silly, but it's actually a very coherent and serious one which deserves a lot of attention

Therein, however, lies the problem. The concept behind the book is fascinating, a deep world which demands to be plumbed, and the glimpses of it we find were enough to get me to finish the book (and get it a couple respectable awards, to boot), but exposition seemed to be the entire point of the book. The author was so in love with her concept that she forgot to actually write a story taking place in it, instead tying together a string of expositional points with a half-hearted story arch.

There are those who would distinguish between stories ‘of ideas’ and other kinds of stories, and the former category tends to suffer much the same issue, from another perspective. By creating a novel ‘of ideas’ one must necessarily take a larger point, usually philosophical, and weave it into a narrative. The narrative often suffers from this, as in the case of The Fountainhead or Lockpick Pornography, to pick a couple I’ve touched on in the past. A story which leans too heavily on its concept and its universe is in danger of the same thing.

The problem with complaining about this is that it’s necessarily a problem that will be experienced by the reader rather than the writer. The writer’s bliss very likely comes in the explication of their vision, their world, and the plot is a secondary sensation for them. Can we really say that the author owes us anything beyond what their own artistic vision surmises?

I would say not. If you want a book your way, do it your-fucking-self.

Nonetheless, the universe seems to be crying out for a larger story, and it’s my sincere hope that it will get it.