Plot or Not?

Kelly Link is one of my favorite writers of weird fiction, slipstream, fantasy, horror, or whatever you want to call her stories. Her voice is always unique and her stories are consistently fresh and surprising. Some have criticized her work as essentially plotless, and that’s arguably true. Often the stories are more about observation and atmosphere, frequently surreal and dreamlike, and less about what happens. She’s always reminded me of David Lynch, but with a slightly more whimsical, childlike viewpoint.

I just started Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters, and came across a more conventional plot-driven story. It’s called “The Wizards of Perfil,” and it reads like first this happened and then this and then another thing. Just a bunch of events strung together. It ended up being not only my least favorite Kelly Link story, but might be the least compelling story I’ve read in the past year.

Not trying to pick on Kelly Link here. She’s still brilliant, and if she never wrote another story she’d go down as one of the most important genre writers of the past decade.

My point is that a creative person with an idiosyncratic approach that works ought to just keep following their path. If you’ve had success writing stories that emphasize mood and voice and attitude rather than plot — and those stories win awards and convince publishers to ask you for more stories — I’d say go with your strengths.

How many wonderfully weird musicians, writers and filmmakers have tripped all over themselves in a swerve toward the conventional? Don’t!

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