26 January 2011

Plotting vs. writing

In several discussions over the past few weeks (okay, years...), I've made the distinction between authors who can write ( i.e. use words well, have varied and interesting vocabulary and sentence structure, etc.) - and those who can plot (i.e. those who generally know exactly what's going to happen and when {and sometimes "y".})

Now, I love me a book written by a fellow word-nerd, and it's pretty easy to tell which ones those are - the ones where "nothing happens" for a page or two and yet you're still drawn into the story despite the lack of aliens to blow up; or you've just finished a chapter and find yourself recalling the particularly apposite phrase before a section break rather than what the consequences turn out to be for the characters in the story (because as much as you might like to try it, Unicef can't turn you into a cactus).

The example I frequently give is Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Both have huge backlists, with some smaller "series" inside a larger group; but where King's words seize the necessary information and generally convey it without further fuss, Koontz's trigger more than just the simple actions you might think belong in books labeled "Horror".

What about Dan Brown, while we're at it? He's another tally-mark in the "plot" column - events race forward at breakneck speed, keeping you turning pages but probably not causing anyone to slow down and appreciate any nice turns of phrase as they race by.

Each style has its proponents, of course - thriller writers almost always plump for plot over wordwork, while poets can't be bothered to answer the straightforward questions that are the lot of their opposite number, opting instead for carefully chosen words and phrasings that invoke the emotions of a piece. Me? Well, considering I usually can't plot to save my life, it's a good thing I'm such a fan of fancy vocabulary, huh? ;-)

Thoughts/opinions of your own? Got more examples of "writers" as opposed to "plotters"? Do tell... :-)


Su said...

I've never even thought about it that way... but I'm sure I'm in the "writer" category. I love me some fancy-schmancy phrases.

Jan Morrison said...

Michael Ondaatje is deep into the language. So is Sue Goyette. A writer who did both with unbeatable success is Graham Greene. ah.
Jan Morrison

ViolaNut said...

Su - I've always found the dichotomy interesting, and I really envy people who can do both.

Jan - Mmmm, yeah, Ondaatje indeed... Don't know Goyette though, will have to look her up.

Everyone/anyone - I have NO CLUE what the hell I meant with the cactus comment, I wrote this at about 2 AM and was trying to type over a cat. If anyone has an interpretation for me, feel free to fill me in... :-P

Hart Johnson said...


I'm a plotter. I LIKE nice words but if they are too nice, they trip me up. I'm just not that smart. (or probably it is just that I am math-brained) but i love the puzzle of a nicely worked plot. Now some thrillers bug me because there isn't enough PSYCHOLOGY to them... all action and no analysis and emotion bugs me... I want to FEEL (and not just adrenaline)--in fact I almost never like a story from a limited PoV--even television gives me more than that (with facial expressions)

But that was a digression... I can enjoy a great little tale that is largely about language, but if I have to pick, I am going with plot. And if I am going to WRITE (which I am) I am much more skilled at plot.

Unknown said...

I think when I read I love reading literary works that have vivid language infused throughout it's body. However, I noticed that when I write, I'm more of a plotter.

Jan, I have not heard of those books. Will look them up.

RosieC said...

I'm definitely more of a plotter, and I love reading both. I sometimes wish I could write more in line with a "writer"/word-smith/poet's eye for literary style, but I haven't developed in that direction. Yet? Hmm.

And while I don't know what you meant by your Unicef and cactus comment, I laughed out loud. I just pictured a little Unicef fairy with a wand in one hand and a little cardboard plate for quarters in the other trying to turn someone into a cactus. Hehe.