Here is another excerpt from the Stephen King book I read recently, On Writing.
In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.
You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable e precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can—I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things going this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. If on the other hand, you decide I’m crazy, that’s fine. You won’t be the first.
When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, so long as he believed that I believed it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.
No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.
Now contrast that to christian fiction. Most of it is written with one specific purpose in mind, one ‘virtue’ or ‘promise’ they want to emphasize. And so it ends up being trite and clichéd. Here is an example:
Guy and girl fall in love, get married, have two kids. After getting bored with his wife, the husband decides to have an affair with one of his college students. He leaves his wife and moves in with college student. The wife suddenly reconnects with her highschool boyfriend, and finds out that the reason she left him all those years ago, thinking he had another girlfriend, was just a misunderstanding. So there was no reason for them to have split up, especially since he’s the one she’s really loved all this time. They become emotionally involved, but don’t sleep together (because she’s the ‘good guy’ in this story). After the girl decides not to pursue her old boyfriend anymore, she starts praying for her husband to come back. So, after getting bored with his affair, he asks her to take him back. She does, albeit a little reluctantly because she has realized she really loves the other guy more. They try to work things out, but it’s hard going. Then one day, the husband suddenly remembers that he left some things over at his girlfriend’s apartment that he needs back, so he heads over there. It just so happens that his girlfriend’s former boyfriend was jealous of him sleeping with her, and did not know yet that they had broken things off. So when the professor goes to the apartment to get his things, the jilted lover runs up behind him and fires several shots, killing him. So what happens next? Of course the bereaved wife now needs someone to comfort her; how convenient that her highschool boyfriend has moved back to town and is more than willing to step up. The end result is that she gets to marry the guy she really loved all along, and they live happily ever after. And the clincher? The reason everything worked out was because she did things in God’s timing and prayed about everything. So He, of course wanting her to be happy, worked things out for her.
And that is why I don’t read ‘christian’ fiction.
This plot refers to the Karen Kingsbury / Gary Smalley effort “Redemption Series”, a part of Kingsbury’s trademarked (yes, I did say trademarked) “Life Changing Fiction” brand.