There aren’t many authors (who actually sell books) who can get away without plotting. Best-selling authors, like Stephen King, who say they don’t plot, don’t realise that they actually do it without realising it. They have an innate plotting talent. They just need less help than the rest of us.
I have noticed that even talented literary authors, who obviously don’t plot, have a shorter shelf life, and fewer readers, than writers who do plot. My greatest wish as a reader is that more literary writers would learn to plot. Can you imagine the incredible books we would have to read? There are some literary authors who do this. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully, and her books have plots.
Is there a difference between a commercial and a literary plot?
What is a literary plot?
Generally, literary plots are full of isolated characters without a clear goal. They are slow and full of ambiguities. The author concentrates on the inner journeys of the characters and their psychological setbacks. The endings are often inconclusive and they mostly don’t end happily.
The bottom line
There are fewer book sales and the author makes less money, unless he or she wins a literary prize.
What is a commercial plot?
Generally, commercial plots are driven by characters with a well-defined story goal. There is lots of action and the author deals with the interior and exterior worlds of the characters. There are physical and emotional setbacks. The endings generally suit the genre of the story.
The bottom line
More of these books are sold and the author makes more money. There is no chance of winning a literary prize.
I think the way forward for modern writers is to marry the two.
- If you write literary fiction, spend some time on plotting and add some pace.
- If you write commercial fiction, make your characters more complex and add small twists to the endings of your stories.
by Amanda Patterson