Just the story, stoopid?

?????????????Following the announcement from Arts Council England that sales of literary fiction are plummeting, it is suggested that arts subsidies be deployed to help writers survive. I have another idea. They should write better books.


So says Tim Lott, who blames writers of “literary fiction” for their own plight. They’ve lost the ability to create interesting and involving plots – or they’re scornful of the whole idea of plot.  (Edna O’Brien said plot was for “silly boys”).

Lott teaches a masterclass called “What Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters”, i.e. the “mysterious and tricky” art of plotting. If writers want to be read, he says, they must learn what screenwriters live or die by – story, story, story. That’s what he means by “better books”.

I wonder, though, if people now prefer to take in fiction via the screen, where the world’s brought to our eyes and ears so close and real that we can see every twitch of a muscle. You don’t have to do the imaginative work to create that world out of words on a page.   Then there are the actors we admire and want to see more of. Even their off-screen lives are a world we love to watch. With such rich and instantaneous rewards delivered so slickly on the screen, is it any wonder that people are reading less?

But all is not lost. We still have the poets. They never expect to have a lot of readers, or to make any money.

8 thoughts on “Just the story, stoopid?

  1. Lott has a point. However, I’ve read a few books written by screen writers and they have been disappointing. But no doubt Lott’s class covers some of this.
    I had a professor once who lectured us about how spoiled we students were. The argument was that we wrote papers the prof HAD to read and that we should be writing papers she WANTED to read.
    And yes, point taken on the poets.

  2. You know, I’m often much more adventurous when it comes to taking a chance on a film than a book. Maybe it’s partly a time thing (2 hours to watch a film vs 8+ hours to read a book – I’m a slow reader), but there’s also something about the visual medium that makes certain types of stories feel more accessible to me. Sci-Fi and world cinema in particular. While I haven’t read very much in the way of fiction in translation this year, I’m still very much into foreign language films when it comes to the cinema.

    1. Yes, I think film is more accessible – it comes to you rather than you having to go to it. And you can immerse your senses in it to the extent that you don’t seem to be thinking, just experiencing.

      1. I just saw the film The Book Club and was sorely disappointed. The plot was predictable and from a formula. Even the movies are wanting in plot. However we still have the classics.

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