Friday, March 13, 2009

Adult Books For YA Readers: Plot And Summing Up

We do love plot. A cliche regarding plot goes that genre fiction is plot driven while so-called literary or mainstream fiction (which some people now contend is a genre, itself) is character driven. In the Gauthier world view, all the traditional elements of fiction (plot, character, point of view, setting, and theme) should be balanced. Integrated even.

Easier said than done, of course. But what isn't?

An important point to remember about plot: There should be a cause and effect relationship between each plot point. A causes B to happen and B causes C, etc. so that once the climactic moment arrives, readers feel that, of course! What else could have happened! If there is no causal relationship between events, you don't have a plot. You have a list of random things happening.

Plot thoughts about this week's study subjects:

Toward the middle of The Dead Father's Club I felt things had slowed down a bit. I'm not talking obvious gaps or leaps in logic. I just felt, Kill him or don't, kid. But by the end of the book, I was sneaking time from work to keep reading.

I think this was a case of the plot, as well as character, supporting one of the book's themes--determining a correct course of action. A character contemplating murder should linger over the decision.

You have to read fifty pages of The Beekeeper's Apprentice before Sherlock Holmes and his young partner, Mary Russell, take on their first case. That seems like a long time for a "plot" to get going in a traditional mystery. And right in the midst of the book's most serious case, the main characters take a detour to Palestine. What? They're going to Palestine now? I thought. Or at all, for that matter, since it seemed totally unrelated to what was going on in that plot.

But The Beekeeper's Apprentice has a great deal to do with character. Those first fifty pages are all about creating Holmes and Russell. As for the trip to Palestine, that's all about defining Russell both as a young Jewish woman and as a woman who is committed to memory. While leaving Jerusalem she recites part of Psalm 137, including the lines, "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither, May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you." This book is supposed to be an account by an elderly woman who does, indeed, remember not only Jerusalem but the companion/father/partner of her youth.

Some of my commenters have suggested that they associate strong plot with kids' fiction. That could very well be why adult mysteries often serve as gateway books for teenagers moving on to adult books. Plot is important to mystery. Neither The Dead Father's Club nor The Beekeeper's Apprentice are slaves to plot. But plot is woven in with other fictional elements, particularly theme and point of view, which should help young readers dipping their toes into adult works appreciate their balance.

7 comments:

Nancy said...

"This book is supposed to be an account by an elderly woman who does, indeed, remember not only Jerusalem but the companion/father/partner of her youth."

Er. You clearly have not yet read any other of the Mary Russell books. (Good to meet you today, Gail!)

-Nancy Werlin

gail said...

Well, you know, Nancy, I started the next book, which opens with something...odd. Plus I read a little something on-line that I found just a bit strange, even creepy, given the intense father-daughter thing that goes on in the first book. Or that I thought was going on.

Great meeting you, too.

Nancy said...

"Or that I thought was going on."

Exactly. We'll see if Laurie King convinces you to think differently. She did me.

gail said...

Actually, I'm about half way through the second book, and she's pretty much lost me altogether, for a number of reasons.

As far as my misreading the relationship in the first book, there seems little doubt about that now. I do think, though, that the narrator describing Holmes as her "substitute father" and saying that he had "slid into the niche my father had occupied" as well as her calling his friend Watson, "Uncle John" was bizarrely misleading, especially given that she had knowledge of the future and clearly knew what the relationship was.

I also think that a romantic relationship instead of a parent child relationship undermines Beekeeper's Apprentice's YA crossover potential. For one thing, you lose the child identifying with parent and then separating from parent (which was what I thought was happening). For another, I don't think a lot of teenagers are going to be interested in a romantic relationship between a girl in her mid-to-late teens and a man nearly forty years older. How many fifteen-year-old girls look forward to the possibility of one day meeting a fifty-four-year old man with rheumatism? I'm guessing not many.

sdn said...

"How many fifteen-year-old girls look forward to the possibility of one day meeting a fifty-four-year old man with rheumatism? I'm guessing not many."

::bursts out laughing::

(and i love these books.)

gail said...

My impression from what I've seen on the Internet is that they have a following. There is Mary Russell fanfiction, for instance. But I don't know how much of that following involves teenagers.

Anonymous said...

>But I don't know how much of that following involves teenagers.< More than you might imagine if you read the stuff on Fanfiction.net, but sites like Letters_Of_Mary are from a more mature viewpoint, but also has some younger contributers.