I hate when people ask what a book is about. People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an Oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . . . Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It's about words. It's about a man dealing with life. Okay?
Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights. What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative! Madeleine felt safe with a nineteenth century novel. There were going to be people in it. Something was going to happen to them in a place resembling the world. Then too there were lots of weddings in Wharton and Austen. There were all kinds of irresistible gloomy men.
Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an actionis through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire letrun, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It canonly be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.
Be a good listener in the special way a story requires: note the manner of presentation; the development of plot, character; the addition of new dramatic sequences; the emphasis accorded to one figure or another in the recital; and the degree of enthusiam, of coherence, the narrator gives to his or her account.
Stories start in all sorts of places. Where they begin often tells the reader of what to expect as they progress. Castles often lead to dragons, country estates to deeds of deepest love (or of hate), and ambiguously presented settings usually lead to equally as ambiguous characters and plot, leaving a reader with an ambiguous feeling of disappointment. That's one of the worst kinds.
(In reply to the question, 'Would you like some suggestions for a plot for your next book?')There are three problems with getting plot suggestions from other people. The first is that ideas are the easy part of writing; finding the time and energy to get them down on paper is the hard part. I have plenty of ideas already. Which brings me to the second problem: the ideas that excite you, the ones you think would make a terrific book, are not necessarily the same ideas that excite me. And if a writer isn't excited about an idea, she generally doesn't turn out a terrific book, even if the idea is terrific. And the third problem with my using your suggestions is that, theoretically, you could sue me if I did, and that tends to make publishers nervous, which makes it hard to sell a book. So thank you, but no.