Plot analysis unicorns
I worked briefly for a film and theater producer who liked to speak of “pushing plot through” a script, as if plot were a waste product excreted through the screenplay’s GI tract. That makes the process, and the producer, sound crass and uncultured, but it was just the opposite: I can think of hardly anyone (certainly not most writers) who had such a sophisticated understanding of plot, who could see a story beat by beat. If yours wanted for drama, if its characters sometimes lacked motivation or some aspect of its narrative felt contrived, he could fix it, and not by cheapening or sensationalizing the plot, but by showing you, on your own terms, what the stakes really were. Tellingly, he eschewed the term plot arc, which summons a tidy rainbow of conflict and resolution, in favor of that uglier but truer “pushing plot through”: what a compelling story needs isn’t a clean trajectory but a healthy appetite and a good digestion.
Seriously, this guys exists? Sounds like my long-lost best friend. I wholly embrace the infinite and eternal plot analysis compulsion. I’m not sure I fully understand the processes of pooping out plot; but that’s okay, I am distracted easily.
What we really want to assimilate is Computational methods for detecting mood, tone, sentiment, or perhaps even affect. Extracting plot arcs from fiction. Quantifying sentiment. Vonnegut’s Man in a Hole. Paul Harvey. A finite number of plots. Plus, Blood Meridian. This emotional valence sounds like the business.
If only I could figure out how to run George Saunders and Danielewski through the Syuzhet package. Then probably tattoo those plot graphs somewhere. Oh, and don’t break the capitol sin of the Internet: Don’t read comments.