I hate it when I'm reading along, enjoying myself, and I realize that the writer doesn't have a story. They have a set-up, a setting, a single character, or one cool idea, and then they pack it in a bunch of words and hope no one notices that nothing happens in their "story." The major sign of this is that you think "Why was that one minor character so cool?" or "Why was I so interested in the numerology system?" Chances are, the author feels the same way. Sometimes the piece is short enough that it's okay, or the prose style is so beautiful or breezy that I don't notice until I go back and think about it. But a few of the methods for disguising a plotless plot always jump out at me.Read the whole thing. Messinger blasts big-name authors for relying too much on surprise twists, high-concept characters and the loss-of-innocence motif. (Even the inimitable Neil Gaiman gets rightfully dinged over his narcolepsy-inducing short "How to Talk to Girls at Parties.") She also directs us back to the fundamentals, reminding us that the tinsel and ornaments may be shiny, but we can't forget to purchase the tree. Things must happen. Characters must change. It all has to flow, to be so well integrated you never see the seams. And I'd like to add another supposition, if I may: It needs a modicum of originality. Yes, I know there's nothing new under the sun and narrative arcs tend to fall into recognizable patterns. But we've all read the borrowed story, the one where only the clothing changes. Hollywood goes in big for them, propping up its CGI extravaganzas with the same old rickety framework. We ought to aim for more than pretty lights.
(Picture: CC 2009 by TheOnlyAnla)