Voice 02/23/21

Allegedly, there are people who read books for a good plot. This doesn’t track for me. I’ve never put down a book, or walked out of a movie, thinking to myself what an incredible plot. Imagine? Wow, it was crazy how they set something up, complicated things, and then resolved them at the end.

This song is so good…it’s got a verse, then a chorus, then a verse, then a chorus, then get this…it’s got a bridge! Then they do the chorus again.

Have you ever had a friend who, when talking about a movie, said, “I hated that. The plot didn’t make any sense.” Nine times out of ten that person is telling on themselves. Anyone who has watched a movie with someone glued to their phone through half of it, only to have them go “meh” at the end knows what I’m talking about.

If you’re working on something, and an idea comes to you, a perfect plot twist or development, by all means write it down. I’d caution against getting too cute with it, though, as most people, and I mean this, do not care about clever twists.

This used to be all the rage. After you’ve seen The Sixth Sense, though, you’ve seen it. That movie at least has the luxury of being really good.

No, movies are not their plot. Whether people articulate it this way or not, when they read or watch or listen to something, they are evaluating it on a second by second, minute by minute metric of whether or not that particular piece of art is a good hang.

You’re at a friends house, drinking beer or bubble water or whatever. When you leave, you don’t think “hmm…the plot of that hangout just didn’t do anything for me.” You’re evaluating the experience based on how interesting the conversation was, how tastefully decorated their place was, how many surprising things happened. That’s it.

Books, I’d put forward, are more equivalent to “a good hang.” A good plot is like the tasteful decor: you really shouldn’t notice it too much. But the conversation should be great.

I noticed this when reading my pals’ books. We have our little writers’ group, which I blogged about earlier, where we read each other’s work and gas each other up.

Lucas Mangum writes horror fiction, for the most part. In his Gods of the Dark Web series, we are introduced to characters, given a little slice of their life, then we watch them get ripped apart by monsters. It’s a simple, effective formula. If you’ve read horror fiction or seen a scary movie, you know what’s going to happen. If Lucas didn’t have some semblance of a plot, I could see that being a problem. But what makes the book a good read is Lucas’s voice. You enjoy reading the words he writes. It’s a pleasure at the time it’s happening, not once it’s all been “pulled together” in the end.

The same thing goes for Kelby Losack. His new book is about two dirtbags holed up in a trailer during a hurricane. There’s a ghost in the house. There’s a raccoon who can’t be killed. The plot on this one is much more loose, dreamy. But again, the joy of reading it comes from the paragraph-by-paragraph musings of the narrator, the strange things that occur that may not go anywhere.

When you read something, you’re pulled in by the writer’s voice, or you’re not. There’s a reason everyone can read the same how-to books or attend the same MFA classes, and then when they put books out a person might like one and not the other, or vice versa. They understand plot and character and all that good shit. But voices only connect with certain people.

I like podcasts. There are immensely popular ones that I can’t listen to because I don’t connect with the host’s voice. There are some that I would really like to listen to, but alas. Can’t get past the fact that we’re not vibing.

Your voice is the single most important element in writing, hands down. And if you’ve been taught that there’s a “proper” way to write a sentence, or structure a book, or whatever, you run the risk of cutting your vocal chords, and creating a bland, beautiful product that gets absolutely zero people excited.

Fill up your toolbox. Keep all the tools neatly in their little cushion-y indents. But keep the lid closed between uses.

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