In this section Hills pushes back hard against conventional terminology. His goal, as always, is making a place for art at the storytelling table:
Plot is just one of a number of aspects of the short story; and if it is the only aspect a reader looks for, all that means is that plot is all he gets. The modern literary short story must seem very dull to him.
And of course it does seem dull because it’s very seldom (outside of Hemingway) that someone actually punches somebody in the mouth, let alone shepherds the reader through a thrill-a-minute amusement ride.
Much if not most storytelling is defined by plot, and as Hills notes that’s even how we speak of stories when we relate them to others. But it’s possible to do a great deal more in every medium, and that’s what Hills is arguing for. Not as a requirement, but as a right.
To make his point Hills includes a hilarious example about a caveman named Og, as well as other arguments, and in the end I think anyone — particularly in this day and age — would conceded his point. Writers have the right to write whatever they want, including works that minimize plotting to an extreme degree.
I think this caution applies to all storytelling, however, even of the most commercial nature. Plot, as Hills makes clear, is simply one element of a story. Depth of storytelling — impact, effect, resonance — comes from crafting all elements in a manner befitting both the story you want to tell and the intended audience. Clinging to plot, emphasizing plot, driving plot relentlessly only serves to reveal it as a structural element.
Nothing is served by overemphasis of plot. It’s easy to do, it favors cleverness, and it will hold attention in the moment, but only in the moment. Like sex, it’s no substitute for intimacy or a relationship.
Next up: Plot in a Short Story, as against Plot in a Novel.
— Mark Barrett