Friday, July 07, 2006

Bernard Malamud on Plot and the Beginning Novelist

Bernard Malamud on plot and the beginning novelist:

Some writers nowadays are discouraged from plotting because they feel that plots are as a rule unoriginal, thus passé; they are content to work with what is called the plot-germ, and as Ortega y Gassett suggests, place most of their emphasis upon the characters; often they seem to be more concerned with background than anything else. I would urge the writer not to give up on a plot before he has really worked at it. Plot, if handled well, can be sheer poetry. It will help create the sense of the mystery of human life, the unknown, almost unknowable things that enter into our lives. Walk into the next room and your destiny may be changed. You can achieve some of that feeling from characterization, but plot intensifies it.

From Bernard Malamud, “Beginning the Novel” in Alan Cheuse & Nicholas Delbanco, eds., Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work (1996).


Julie said...

"Plot, if handled well, can be sheer poetry." I agree, oh, I agree!

Hugh West said...

I think that Malamud here gets at what writers (and perhaps readers) too often forget -- art is hard! Yes, one wants to develop character, and yes, one wants to limn a definite and palpable background. And when those things are done within the context of a developing plot -- that is the writer's art. Sure, Malamud could do it, so can a handful of other supremely gifted writers. But there are too many shysters who have mastered only one or the other of the essentials, and get into print on the strength of that.

Mark said...

I agree. This was the hardest thing for me to learn as a young writer. I wanted to live in the characters' heads and just write witty dialogue and biting observations. Then one of my professors said, "This is nice, but why not have something happen? And that has made all the difference in the world to me.