Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Plot Takes the Wheel

So what are some examples of plot-driven books?  Thrillers and mysteries tend to be plot-driven (meaning, it isn't the setting or the characters that keep you reading to the end of the book; you turn the pages to find out to find out who done it, or whether the bomb will be found and disarmed in time), and one dead giveaway that you are reading a plot-driven book is when the protagonist's reason for being in the story is merely or principally professional, e.g., she is a private investigator, or a cop... or a symbologist.

Yes, The Da Vinci Code is plot-driven.  In the first chapters, in the Louvre and in Paris, there is a lot of interesting setting detail, but read it closely and watch how that level of information falls off sharply after the beginning.  Dan Brown's Paris is vivid, but his London is utterly bland, as are his characters (sorry).  I don't care about Robert Langdon or Sophie Neveu, and neither do you; the former exists to explain the plot and the latter exists to hear the explanation.

James Clavell's great Noble House has been my back-of-the-toilet book (sorry, germophobes) for months now.  Clavell's characters are good, and his setting is fantastic, but we don't read the book for either of those reasons.  We read it for the plot, which is complicated (kidnapping, horse-racing, murder, gun running, corporate raiders, bank runs, commercial rivalry, Chinese mobsters, Italian mobsters, and hey, look, a Russian spy!), huge and fascinating.  Hong Kong is fascinating too, but if the book were set in New York, we'd still read it.

Can speculative fiction be plot-driven?  Of course.  Think the Dresden Files.

Bonus Question: recently, a trilogy of thrillers that is arguably character-driven has been rampaging through the bestseller lists (especially the e-book lists) and the news.  Name it.

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