Interstitial Moment:

This from a speech I’m giving in Ireland in two weeks for SCBWI:

I seemed to have been absent from school the day plot was taught. So I will tell you in several sentences what I believe plot is all about. You may argue with me at will.

I believe there are two kinds of writers: the ones who carefully consider plot, who craft it with outlines and maps, with tending to the Gross National Product of the place of their story, and they know every thing ahead of time. And then there are the others who simply shake hands with their characters, take the measure of them, let them loose into the mist, and then spend the rest of the book plunging after the characters shouting, “Wait for me.”

I am of the latter group, a true scrambler in the mist, absolutely the wrong person to lecture you on plot.

But this I know: the only place you will ever find a plot-driven life is in the pages of a book. Donald Trump’s life? Too messy and sprawling and positively unbelievable and bad seed-ish. Richard Branson’s life? All forward motion and no place to rest. Tiger Woods? Not a tragedy. Farce maybe, except for the heartbreak imposed upon his wife. You need nobility of character for tragedy. Brangelina? Are you kidding me? Too much character, no real story. Lady Di? Don’t get me started.

and a bit later:

I –being a lover of fairy tales– knew immediately that the deeply-rooted last line in folk stories, “And they lived happily ever after,” is the core of what we think we know about endings. We hear it always in out hind brain because it’s the last line most of us in the West have grown up with. That line stops the story at the point of greatest happiness. The wedding, the homecoming, the mystery unraveled, the villain disposed of, families reunited, babies born.

If we went on in the story, that happy ending might not be deserved. “Cinderella” might be whispered about in court: after all, her manners are not impeccable, she always has smudges of ash on her nose, and no one can trace her bloodline back enough generations. Perhaps she has grown fat eating all that rich food in the castle, and the prince’s eye has strayed.

If we went on in “Three Little Pigs”, the brother who builds with bricks will have kicked the other two out of his house or hired them to run his successful company and they—angry at their lower status—plot to kill him but having little imagination do it the only way they know how, by trying to boil him in the pot that still holds the memory of the wolf’s demise, so being by far the smartest of that trio, of course he finds out.

And as for those “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” they have grown old, and are massively obese from lack of nightly exercise. They are all unmarried (except for the oldest who married beneath her, and I’m sure there’s more to that story) and they still keep on about how their disgusting father ruined their lives by hiring the soldier to find out their secret. You see—in fairy tales we know where to end. And it’s taken care of in that last line: “happily ever after.”

But modern books pose a different problem. They present harder choices. It’s no longer fairy tale endings we are talking about, but the other stuff.

And I go on for about 45 minutes along these lines. Hope they enjoy it.

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