One of the things that have been holding me back from writing a novel is that I simply can’t think of a plot. But maybe I don’t need one.
I just finished the first three books in the Wayfarer series.1 Becky Chambers is an adept storyteller who has created a fascinating, multi-species, post-Earth SciFi universe. She explores issues such as technology ethics, chosen and biological families, sexuality and gender identity, and cultural differences. But there wasn’t a strong plot — at least in the traditional sense of a series of events arranged to build to a denouement — and it didn’t matter.
I loved the way Chambers built an entire world and created compelling characters, and then set things in motion to see what happened. It reminded me of the unpredictability of real life, not the contrivances of fiction where pieces have to fall into place. The stories felt relatable and realistic, even with wild aliens and advanced technology.2
The big takeaway for me, I think, is that I can start a novel by playing around with people, places, ideas, and experiences. Chambers’ books show that those elements, not the plot, can be the most compelling parts of a story. I should just throw everything together, stir stuff up, and find out how it goes.3
If the story works, that’s great. If not, I’ll have a lot of ideas to graft onto a conventional plot. Either way, I win.
1 I’m giving myself a break from heavy reading and focusing on fun stuff for a while.
2 Also worth noting: There’s minimal overlap between the novels. A primary character from the first novel returns in the second novel, but that’s it. The third novel could be a stand-alone book; it only has tenuous connections to the first two.
3 This is not unlike how the Complimentary Spouse makes chili.