The problem with plot-driven stories

Haven’t posted here for a while, but I feel like it’s time to compile my thoughts on China Miéville, especially since I’ve read one of his popular books (Perdido Street Stations) and am in the process of reading another one (Kracken). He has a tendency to make me think – not a bad thing.

This will contain some spoilers, some heavy opinion, so back toward the door if you want neither of these.

Perdido was good. I liked it. It had this finely tuned plot, that was extremely dependent on details. Miéville never forgot about his characters, kept everyone turning about the clock, picking up stories and dropping them off, always as soon as they were done. What I did not like was the fact that it felt very plot-driven, not character-driven.

For me, the big push to read is the human element. Their voice. Their thoughts. Their opinion. To me, the most interesting writing is the one where people voice their beliefs, where their voices are loud enough to convince me to read. Even if that voice is wrong, stupid, or brilliant. I read because of the strength of their belief, driving a sense of captivation.

Miéville story was not captivating. Don’t get me wrong. I liked his story. I wanted to read. But it was one of those books that I had to drive myself to read, to push myself forward because I wanted to know what happened, even while my unconscious pushed me in the other direction. This was a book I read slowly. And while there is an audience that prefers this type of book, I am not one of them.

This book was definitely plot-driven.

Personality of a plot-driven book:

  • Excess of setting details – I don’t think it’s a bad thing the world was this well constructed, but I do think this is a significant hint to when a book is plot driven
  • Heavy use of metaphors – I don’t think I’m crazy, but there were a lot of direct comparisons in this book. Between the city and Issac and Yagharek. I’d have to look back to find an example, but I remember thinking this multiple times
  • Heavy use of abstract descriptions – At least in Perdido, there were a lot of heavy abstract descriptions that kept me from accurately visualizing a scene. I had to sit there spending energy on comprehension than on reading. I don’t think this is a hugely bad thing, depending on this ratio of time. For me, for some parts, it wasn’t worth it
  • Discordant scenes – This is where Miéville’s planning shines through. His plot is very detail dependent, and there were scenes necessary to introduce later parts within the story. But this made certain scenes stand out, seem random, and otherwise just not fit in with the rest of the story. For example, the mechanic placing a virus on the floor cleaner.
  • Abandoned/heartless characters – Here is where I’m torn. To me, his characters don’t have enough life, but it could be he doesn’t give them enough life. In Perdido, I saw Lin abandoned when we thought she was dead. And I’m torn. I half-liked it because it created the suspicion that she was dead, but I was annoyed to have the big cliche reveal of she’s alive. In Kraken, his characters don’t seem to have enough life/heart. They aren’t driven, so neither am I. It seems more like the plot is pulling the characters along rather than having the characters driving the plot.

I read for the individual. I read for the psychology. Maybe that’s why I like his other book better. Kraken definitely started out with a lot of psychology. It was all about beliefs, particularly cultist beliefs. And boy did my interest with this book jump forward. I don’t find myself as captivated with this one as with other books. I think it still retains some of the personality of plot-driven books, but he’s definitely picking up some characteristics found within character-driven books.

But while I find a lot of negatives with Miéville, I also find a lot of positives. Miéville is one of the more creative, original, inventive authors, and it’s interesting to read online that he has redone steam punk, making it once more un-cliched. I think I would definitely read Miéville again, if only to learn his method of plotting. His does a good job with his inventions. But, he’s not my style. I wouldn’t mimic his methods, at least for my preference.

Miéville, C. Perdido Street Station. London, Great Britain: Del Rey, 2000. Print.

Miéville, C. Kraken. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2010. Print.


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