A story that has nothing but action and plot is a pretty poor affair; and some great stories have neither. To my mind, plot is merely one way of telling a story, by connecting the happenings tightly; usually through causal chains. Plot is a marvelous device, but it’s not superior to story; and not even necessary for it.” Ursula K. Le Guin
This provocative declaration about plot is found in Ursula’s pithy writing guide, Steering the Craft — a favorite of mine. Here, the storied science fiction writer shares more on what plot is and isn’t:
“In E.M. Forster’s Aspect of the Novel, which I’ve loved and argued with for years, is a famous illustration of story: ‘The king died and then the queen died.’ And plot: ‘The king died and then the queen died of grief.’
“My opinion is that those are both rudimentary stories, the first loose, the second slightly structured. Neither one has or is a plot. ‘When the king’s brother murdered the king and married the queen, the crown prince was upset’ — now there3’s a plot; one you may recognize, in fact.
“There is a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story, and every meeting of one with another begins another story. Somebody asked Willie Nelson where he got his songs, and he said, ‘The air’s full of melodies, you just reach out….’ The world’s full of stories, you just reach out.
“I say this to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world is full of stories…. All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find a story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling. I like my image of ‘steering the craft,’ but in fact,the boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”
Wise and wonderful words! May they spark a story within you as we all write on!
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