‘What’s it about?’

It would be fair to say I struggle with plot. I really do. One of the reasons is that I just don’t care that much about it. It’s never what really interests me.

Some of my favourite books don’t have plots. Obvious examples would include Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, of course, but also more recent examples. Independence Day (Richard Ford), Hawksmoor (Peter Ackroyd), Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), just to take examples at random. These have no plot, in the sense of a sequence of events and situations that lead consecutively to an end. They just give you some life, some vivid representation of what it feels like to be alive.

Whenever I read anything, I am always uncomfortably aware of the clanking plot machinery going on in the background. I just had to abandon reading a bestselling thriller by ‘one of our leading crime writers’ because I could see, not only exactly where it was going, but that that was all it was going to do. Characterisation, description, mood, atmosphere, sense of place: nope, just the story. There might have been some pallid pleasure in finding out if I was guessing right or not about the trajectory, but, ultimately who cares? I could invent my own ending. Who cares what such a bad author wants the story to be? And yet clearly, a great many people do.

I ploughed all the way to the end of a Jeffery Archer novel once, in the vain hope of working out what other people see in him. There were four ‘characters’, all of them simple cardboard cutouts with names attached to them. One of them was going to win an election, and I imagine you were supposed to be busy guessing which one. But again, how could anyone care which of four interchangeably one-dimensional characters ultimately won? The author clearly didn’t: they were simply a means to his tiresome end, and were no more than shop dummies with different coloured suits on. (I think the blue one won, but I couldn’t swear to it.)

There is a theory that men go for plot, women go for character. (A creative writing teacher recently reported that one of his male students had told him he would ‘fill in the characters later’.) I suspect there’s more to it than that, though. People go to books for a huge variety of reasons, and plot is just one of them. But film and TV have prioritised plot over everything else, to the extent that ‘what is it about?’ now can only mean: ‘what is the story?’ I think that’s a shame. Book are about life, and life hasn’t got a plot, it just goes on for a bit, there’s some shouting and drinking and so on, and then it, sort of, stops (round about page 235, just after the chase but before the shock twist that makes sense of it all). Plot is just a lie we tell ourselves that things have an order, a logic, a (deep breath) meaning. Well guess what, they don’t.

I read an interview with Keanu Reeves once. He was having what appeared to be a very, very bad day. ‘What is your new film about?’ he was asked. Long Pause. ‘It’s about the human condition,’ says Keanu. ‘Tell me about your next film.’ Long pause. ‘It’s about the human condition,’ says Keanu, at which point he gets up and starts, slowly and gently, to bang his head against the window. But that’s my answer from henceforth. ‘What’s it about?’ ‘It’s about the human condition.’ End of.

Advertisements

Outrage as Kindle reduces free samples to first six letters.

Kindle have caused an outcry at their announcement that the free samples will henceforth be reduced to the first six letters of a work. Janine Carapace, Kindle Marketing Director, said earlier today: ‘We have reached this decision based on extensive consumer feedback. People are just too busy to wade through an entire Kindle free sample. They need something more efficient. Time is money. We also felt that if a book can’t ‘grab’ you within the first six letters, then it probably won’t grab you at all. Authors will have to up their games.’

Examples:

A Tale of Two Cities

It was t

1984

It was a

Pride and Prejudice

It is a t

Paul Clifford (Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

It was a

Whitehawk

‘Jamie?’

Peter James ‘to take over Brighton’

Bestselling author Peter James is to be given a free hand in running Brighton, it was announced earlier today. All decisions relating to the city will now be taken by Mr James (63).

Denise McFail, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said this: ‘Peter James is one of our best known and best loved novelists. The plot twists, the moral dilemmas, the believable characters: readers just can’t get enough of him. Not to mention the incredible amounts of research he does on police procedure and so on. So it seemed a natural progression that he should be given sole command of the entire city. We are all looking forward to this exciting new era in local politics.’

A spokesperson for Mr James’ publishers (Pan McMillan) said: ‘Mr James is extremely busy promoting his new novel, Perfect People, at the moment, but he will be back in a few months to start getting to grips with some of the issues relating to recycling and parking, for example, which have plagued the city for years. We understand he has some quite radical proposals in mind.’

Local resident Sonia Teeth said: ‘Peter who?’

Reuters.

Author condemns BBC documentary as ‘biased’.

 

Controversial author Simon Nolan (Whitehawk, Revenge Ink, £7.99) has made a scathing attack on a BBC documentary. The programme, aired after Christmas, was, he said, ‘a joke, completely biased, with no attempt to address the arguments from both sides.’

Summer Ends on Penguin Island, screened on 27 December, featured numerous sequences of penguins eating herring and mackerel. But, says Nolan, the programme crucially failed to indicate how the herring and mackerel felt about any of this.

‘It was just blatant triumphalist penguin propaganda. I mean, when is it the poor bloody mackerel’s turn? When do they get to be the hero? You know?’ he said.

A BBC spokeswoman said: ’I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Who did you say you were again?’

Reuters.

Author says pottery is ‘Not for him’.

Controversial author Simon Nolan (Whitehawk) has said he is ‘finished’ with pottery. In a wide ranging interview, he reveals that it had ‘never been more than bit of a whim, really.’

‘I only went about three times, ‘ he continued. ‘I thought it was all really boring and messy, to be honest. And the pots all looked a bit shit. I was quite keen at first but then, I don’t know, I just stopped going.’ When asked what kind of gap his abandonment of the artform would create in his life, he shrugged. ‘Barely measurable,’ he said. ‘Frankly, I couldn’t care less about it.’

Vince Quank, from the British Institute of Potters said it was ‘a shame’ that the artform was losing practitioners like this. ‘I suppose if everyone who liked pottery suddenly decided they didn’t like it anymore, then that could be a serious blow to the craft of pot throwing in this country. But just because one person decides he doesn’t like it after three goes, doesn’t really mean that much, in the wider sense. Many a dream has come to ruin at the wheel. We believe that pottery will continue to play a key role in the creative life of the nation.’

Julian Lovely, the Minister for Pottery and Tableware, issued a statement which outlined this administration’s vision for pottery over the next ten years. ‘This administration,’ it concludes, ‘has a vision for pottery over the next ten years.’

Reuters.

The Little Zombie Who Just Wanted To Dance.

‘Look we’ve been over and over this,’ said Mrs Tupelo. ‘You put your arms out like this, you lurch about and you go uuuurgh. OK? Got it?’

Maisie sat sullenly at the table, staring at the oozing slab of brain in front of her.

‘But…’

‘When did you ever see a zombie dancing?’ said Mrs. Tupelo. ‘Feeding on human flesh, OK. Going uuuurgh, fine, that’s traditional. It’s what we do in this family.’

‘But I don’t like human flesh.’ Maisie picked at the food. ‘It’s all gooey…’

‘Yes love, well that might just be because it’s brains mightn’t it… Look, just eat a little bit of it and you can have some of the other stuff, what was it again?’

‘Salad.’

‘Uuuuurgh,’ said Mr Tupelo abruptly, as a rat crawled out of an eye socket. (He was, largely, ignored.)

‘And what’s all this about dancing?’ Mrs Tupelo said as Maisie moved the brains around her plate.

‘I’ve told you. I want to join a contemporary dance troupe,’ Maisie said, quietly defiant.

‘Maisie, your father didn’t get a machete embedded in his skull just so you could go prancing round in a leotard.’

‘Uuurgh!’

‘You want to make us a laughing stock?’

‘I don’t care!’ Maisie cried out, tears stinging her eyes as blood spurted out of her ears. ‘I don’t want to lurch about going uuuurgh! It’s boring! I just want to dance!’

She ran from the room, slamming the door behind her.

‘Maisie. Maisie!’ Mrs Tupelo called after her. She turned to her husband. ’Graham. Can’t you talk to her?’

Graham looked at his wife. Her left arm fell off.

‘Uuuuuuurgh!’ he said.