TALES FROM MY STREET: THE PROBLEM WITH READERS – THE PLOTLESS SOCIETY

“What’s up, Tel? You look like you swallowed a banana sideways.”

Nige sits opposite me, puts down his glass which is already half empty. The Farmers is quiet tonight; because it’s hot, most of the clientele are out back in the garden, swathed in fag smoke which obscures their view of the mildewed concrete floor and the weird shadows moving across the fuzzy glass windows of the undertakers next door.

I shut my laptop, the page still blank anyway. “I’ve been bothered about something for a long time now.”

“Richard’s manure heap that’s walking around on its own at nights?”

“No, the fact that so many successful books and movies these days just don’t have plots. Or at least not logical ones. And no one seems to care.”

He thinks for a moment. “I see what you’re saying. So, why don’t the writers put in a plot? They must know how to, don’t they? I mean, it’d be like me not bothering to fit a U bend under a sink, just sort of hoping the water’ll find its own way somehow into the waste pipe.”

“That’s what concerns me. They obviously could in a plot but they don’t; and it doesn’t stop them making a pile of cash anyway.”

“And you reckon they should do it for their own pride, even if the punters don’t care?”

“Oh, I think a few punters care a lot. They’re the ones that write very funny and detailed one star Amazon critiques of plotless junk like Prometheus but they’re outnumbered hundreds to one by the five star fans who loved it anyway.”

“Okay, but if they added a plot, wouldn’t that get the thinkers on board too and the fans will still be there anyway?”

“You’d think so but it just doesn’t happen. I’ve given up watching most TV because the lack of causal linking between scenes gets me too worked up.”

“Bar pause,” he says. He picks up my glass and heads to the counter to order two more pints. I’m actually keen to hear what he says when he returns. A curious quality of Nige’s is that his brain works best following a pause. And he pauses a lot. He pauses several times a day for tea while painting and decorating; and he often pauses during a tea pause to take a doughnut run pause. He also pauses frequently between pints although it has to be said that the lager itself doesn’t pause that much on its way to his stomach.

“You’re coming at this all wrong,” he says, sitting again. “You think the problem’s the writers but I reckon it’s the punters – the viewers and the readers.”

“Tell me more.”

“Okay, you’re often banging on about how the creative world ain’t controlled any longer by the artist. The punters shout loud about what they want; the sellers take note and tell the publishers what to publish, and the publisher tells the writer what to write. Right?”

“Well, it’s not quite that black and white. There’s always been a commercial imperative but these days it’s just got all-conquering.”

“Yeah, right, okay. But you’re missing the point.”

He smiles, rather like a civil servant who’s just been given a promotion for twenty years of doing the bleedin’ obvious.

“Hit me.”

He nods over his right shoulder.

“Paint fumes given you a head tick, Nige?”

I look over his shoulder and see a couple, both looking at their phones.

“Well, that’s nothing new: a couple who’d rather communicate virtually with their virtual mates than talk to the real person sitting opposite.”

“Yeah, but what has Tweeting, Facebook and texting got in common?”

“Sore thumbs?”

“They’re all plotless activities. Just one random scene followed by another. And people do it so much, they ain’t just avoiding plots, they’re scared shitless of bumping into one.”

I look at the couple. To anyone who didn’t know what the small plastic panels in their hands are for, the obvious conclusion to come to is that they don’t want to look each other in the eye.

“Real life is full of plots,” I say. “Marriage is a beginning, middle and an end. Every event in your life is the same, or it should be.”

Nige is nodding, white paint streaked hair falling into his lager glass. “Plots mean making decisions. Opening a video of a cat playing the piano, commenting ‘Aw, it’s SO cute!’, then passing it on to someone else, doesn’t require any decision-making.”

I remind myself again that I rarely see Nige with a phone in his hand, and while I know he has a computer at home in order to stay connected with all his conspiracy mates around the world, I’ve never heard him mention Facebook or Twitter other than in derogatory terms.

“So,” I say, “publishers and movie-makers have sussed that people don’t want plots in their lives, including in their entertainment, so they’ve replaced them with bright shiny isolated scenes?”

“Well, that would certainly explain Dr Who and Sherlock. But I don’t think it’s quite that nice and neat, Tel. I reckon the writers are probably suffering the same reality-avoidance as their fans.”

Suddenly, I feel defeated. I know he’s right. Even amongst what could be called the more serious writers today, I’ve noticed that many have trouble ending stories satisfactorily.

“Do you think there’s a particular fear of endings as well?” I say.

He snorts. “Well, Facebook never ends, does it?”

“So what’s a proper writer supposed to do?”

“You know that one-coat paint you can get these days? Well, it may save you time but it won’t ever produce the depth of finish you get from undercoating then applying several layers of thinned-down paint.”

“You think I should carry on undercoating anyway?”

He shrugs. “I just do what the punter pays me to do. The point is I can produced a deep and satisfying finish if I need to.”

I turn my attention to the pint of richly-hued American IPA beer in front of me, a third as much again as Nige’s lager.

“How come you just drink that cheap crap?” I say.

He nods at my pint. “Alcohol’s alcohol, whatever fancy froth you dress it up in.”

It’s late and I’m tired. I really don’t know if he’s still giving me lessons about writing. But I think he’s right that we live in a largely plotless world.

 

 

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