Saturday, November 08, 2008

On the Subject of Plot: Marilynne Robinson

Since I wrote a bit about the monstrous subject of plot yesterday--and seem to always be wrangling with it in one way or another--I thought I'd follow up with a good quote from Marilynne Robinson that helps alleviate the plot pressure an author can feel, especially if he or she is an inadequate plotter like myself.

"I don't like plot very much--please contain your surprise. It becomes a big machine that carries everything after it," Robinson said in a recent reading/discussion at the Los Angeles Public Library.

It's true that plot is quite a brute. The kind of person that bullies into a room and takes over the conversation, interrupting the softer voices, the whispers, the telling pauses.

When plot becomes the absolute focus, all other elements serve it--but plot will never serve the other elements. It's too much of a king, a dictator, a despot, muscular and imperious and unabashed. It often won't suffer the time to hear the details, to allow a narrative transgression or even a little meandering.

And it's in the meandering that an author, and a reader, find so much of the meaning they're searching for. It's all a search, after all; life isn't meant to be contained in an outline.

So I suppose an inadequate plotter like myself should resign myself to that fate and focus on the things I can do better. Not every pitcher has a good fast ball.

Here's a shaky clip of Robinson reading at the event:

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