Where’re We Going? Eh, Who Cares. (Writing a Story Without Plot)

There’s madness in every direction. No escape. No savior’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Well, why go in search for one when you can just live the ride for its wildness?

There’s no single conclusive endpoint to life besides death. No moment or accomplishment or feeling that means you’ve done everything you can in this existence.

Schwarzenegger’s life story didn’t end after his last bodybuilding contest victory, it didn’t end after his best movie performance in his prime (Terminator for me), and it didn’t end after his Governorship. Looking at each of those major events as they occurred, who would’ve guessed where he’d turn his ambitions with each step? Who’d of guessed each pivot would be an entertaining spectacle?

Well, if it works in real life, why not try it in fiction? If you want your stories to be more realistic make them less predictable, less formulaic. Write a story without a plot.

Now this is different to the gardener writing approach of not having a solid story structure laid out in an outline before the pen hits paper (I myself favor the spontaneity of this style).

A story without a plot carries no significant endpoint that would conclude the main thrust of the piece. Think of a road trip without a set destination. The story can go anywhere and develop in infinite ways.

However, this no plot structure (anti-structure?) is often plagued by the common writing mistake of ‘Ands’ where the story is but a series of events that happen in a particular order. The Animaniacs had a recurring segment where a boy would stammer through stories of things that’d happened to his friend, often citing unrelated background information, in a stream of disconnected Ands, as he would fidget with something in his hands. I encourage you to look them up for a laugh and a perfect example of this fault.

There are several ways to maintain cohesiveness in a plotless story and I can think of no better example than Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. *I normally wouldn’t give a spoiler warning for a book that came out in 1971 but I love it and want as many interested readers to experience it fresh.*

The main plot follows Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo traveling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas so Duke can write a magazine article about the Mint 400 desert auto race. His attendance at the race and its significance in the plot are finished less than 25% into the novel. Yet this does nothing to sever the connective tissue of the story.

Many of the story’s plot-points are direct or indirect consequences of Duke’s outrageous drug-use and reckless behavior in Las Vegas. His massive, unpayable hotel bill causes him to flee the city. His nervousness at being caught for his crimes has him ignore a telegram telling him not to leave the city and has him speed through the desert with an unregistered .357 magnum and a kitbag only to be stopped by the California Highway Patrol. His phone call for help from his attorney lets him know he’s due back in Vegas to cover a law enforcement narcotics conference.

The rest of the story carries on in much the same fashion where the character’s early actions cause problems for him to overcome later on. Significant items and plot-points such as the telegram for the new assignment and the revolver are introduced and payoff as the story bounces off them later on.

A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (the book’s subtitle) is a subplot that spontaneously appears through the story as Duke and Gonzo’s true objective in driving to Las Vegas even though they frequently give up on the search to pursue immediate desires or obligations.

Also appearing and disappearing as subplots through the story include: not being jailed for their numerous crimes, dodging people they’ve injured, and looking for the next high.

The book also carries thematic threads that make for smooth transitions between vastly different scenes.

Duke’s somber recollection of the faded potential of the 60’s counterculture clashes with the straight-laced, out-of-touch, conservative drug-culture bashing expressed by the police at the narcotics convention and Vegas as a whole. Duke’s impression of the sporting press at the Mint 400 as incompetent and his negative attitude towards the quality of journalism as a whole in the US are further mocked by his failure to find out who even won the race and his status as a “Doctor of Journalism” as he carries on in the least possible ethical and professional manner establishing sweet dramatic irony.

Furthermore, and this is a bit obvious once put out there, the rest of the story is interesting. As Stephen King succinctly put it in On Writing, “A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot.”

What happens when two ether sniffing crazies try to enter the Circus Circus while stumbling into people and shouting obscenities about the Pope? What happens when a 300 pound screaming lawyer calls out an elevator full of reporters for a fight while brandishing a knife? What happens when two men pick up a young hitchhiker in the middle of the desert as they inhale poppers, drink, and ramble about finding the American Dream?

There’s no more fun to be had interrupting the mood and momentum of each scene just to reroute plotward with a rusty, squealing railway track switch.

Asides about the false kindnesses of a Vegas that only wants their gambling money that you happen to have gotten away with, the injustices in the law’s distribution of punishment with regards to money, the failures of our idols… Without a plot, Fear and Loathing can freely maneuver between wild drug experiences to diatribes about a despondent political climate to remorse and critique over the 60’s recently gone by in a single chapter. Do whatever you want.

That’s the rub. Freedom. Death to a story that wants to be carved from fine marble.

Or maybe it’s more like fire. Difficult to control and when it escapes there’s no placing it back in a box without incalculable damage to something old or limping along.

Well, why not? Burn the dead wood and clear paths to wander between the trees and enjoy the new life in every direction. If it works for forests in real life, it might have its way within fiction.

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