Monday, May 6, 2013

The Power of Plot

How does a writer persuade a reader to follow their story to the end?  My experience with 'Greasy Lake' by T. Coraghessan Boyle showed me how.

The setting in 'Greasy Lake' was not a place I would choose to visit.  Even the name of the lake is offensive.  When Boyle describes it as "fetid and murky, the banks glittering with broken glass, beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires," I am filled with a certain disgust.  Add to that the individuals involved, he describes as "all dangerous characters."  I had a pretty good idea of the sort of story I was getting involved with, and it made me uncomfortable.

So, what kept me reading?

The fact that Boyle is a gifted writer helped immensely.  He crafted a bunch of words that described to my mind's eye a place I would never go to on purpose, nor would I care to associate with his "bad characters."  He mixed that with a plot, an artful arrangement of incidents.  As these incidents built on each other to create suspense, I found I couldn't read fast enough to see what would happen next.

It was as if Boyle knew I was going to read his story and knowing I would not relate, he throws in a bit of info that changes the way I felt about his 'bad boy narrator.'  In the midst of this nasty setting, the narrator clues me in that he is driving his mother's Bel Air.  Now, all of a sudden, I am thinking about a loving mother who is home worrying about her son who has gotten himself mixed in with the wrong crowd.

It's all part of Boyle's plot, by using exposition, to get me to now care about what happens to this loving mother's delinquent son.  I find myself hoping he will get home safe with her car intact.


  1. You didn't state it outright, but the powerful description (of setting, etc.) was a powerful attraction. Would you say that descriptive imagery or the plot most drew you in?

    1. I thought it was the plot, but may be reading his powerful descriptions drew me in since I do not usually read this kind of story. I think I can safely say, it was both plot and description crafted by a skilled writer that drew me in. Thanks for your comment.

  2. You know what this post reminded me of?

    The scene in Tommy Boy, when Richard is talking about Tommy's dad and says, "He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in WHITE GLOVES."

    I think the same can be said of a good writer: If it's written compellingly well, it sells. Right?

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