Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eric Paul Shaffer on Plot and Star-Gazing

Is there a plot in your novel?

The metaphor for the use of plot in traditional fiction is a train ride: start at this station, move along the tracks, sidings, and stations, and end at the destination station. The metaphor for the use of plot in Burn & Learn is star-gazing: there are multiple lights of differing magnitudes that appear in various places in the visible sky, and they make patterns based on the images you can see there or draw there or create there by joining those points together. You can create new constellations or you can apply the ones that seem most obvious. You can compare all of the brightest to each other or you can read them from west to east, north to south, or in a spiral that starts from whichever star you think is the pole star. The meaning is what you make of it; the making readers do is as important as the text, probably more important. Burn & Learn, therefore, is not only a title; it’s the first rule in reading the novel.

As you know, I like to challenge my readers with truth they may prefer to ignore, depicting characters with incurable illness, prejudice, anger, selfishness, and so forth. I believe you kick it up a level and challenge them to change they way they read. I want to tell readers that while your answers sound scholarly, Burn & Learn is a whole lot of fun. It has a playful spirit, with a mix of observation and insight that just makes me laugh. Is that okay?

That is more than okay; I will be delighted when you do that. I especially like the idea that Burn & Learn challenges the way they read. I believe that reading is a much more active activity than we commonly believe, and I hope my novel invigorates its readers.

This photo shows one of my favorite yanejishi because of his demented expression of fear and ferocity with a trace of a smile.

I like his playful spirit, too. Thanks so much for the interview, Eric.

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