Thursday, September 20, 2012

To plot or not to plot

In talking about writing, William Saroyan once remarked: "What difference does it make what you call it, just so it breathes?"

Following this thread, novelist Richard Brautigan, wrote a raft of novels that reviewers sometimes called Brautigans rather than novels.

The old rules fall away, but one seems to stick.

The importance of plot. Somehow you can't get away from it. For plot is -- if not everything -- all but the kitchen sink. Come to think of it, we shouldn't leave out the kitchen sink either. Especially if it's doing some gruesome gurgling. We may need that gurgle to further the plot.

Which brings me to Trent Zelazny's new novel, Too Late To Call Texas.

Trent is a plotter not a plodder, and his novels breathe, as Saroyan said they should.

What makes this novelist's stories gripping is that the plot is "everyman in trouble" compounded with what has been called the "irrelevant detail."

Example: a guy driving on a lonely New Mexico road at night finds a cowboy hat on a fence. Curious, (as are we all) the driver stops to check it out. The hat has a hole in the crown. There is a sticky something there, too. Blood? Yes.

One question after another comes up, one after another, in this hell-and-gone masterpiece that might have been called a "yarn" in another era.

I call his novels Trents. Because they all have this similar ring of truth. Something obscure is happening and we don't know what it is, but we want to find out, and do. By then we're at the end of the novel, ka-ching.

Trents thrive on curiosity. The same that killed the cat. His cats are characters, and they do sometimes die for curiosity. But often, the irrelevant details mount up, and one little thing leads to another larger thing, all of them coming down to a greedy, sneaky, dangerous, leaky, eeky thing.

Don't read Trents on an empty stomach -- or a too-full one. When I read them, I tend to eat the same things his characters eat. Huevos rancheros yesterday while I finished Too Late To Call Texas.

If you're a writer, you need to take a look at a whole bunch of Trents.

If you're a reader, you should read them all, eating as you go, but look out for that unforeseen low ledge because it'll knock you off your horse.

1 comment:

  1. Brillianty stated, and spot on. I loved this book, and every other damned Trent I've read. Let us all, as writers, strive to be Trent-worthy.