BTT -- It's the story, stupid.

This week's BTT meme question is about plot...

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No … it’s because you want to know what happens next?
Or, um, is it just me?
(Deb at BTT)

The average reader will keep turning pages if the plot of a book is strong. More patient readers will hang in longer if a novel is a literary tour-de-force. Sometimes the word play, metaphors and originality of the author's fictional universe suffice. I've enjoyed novels like that but I feel the authors are getting away with something. They break the ancient conventions of good story telling.

The literary novels that bore me often lack plot. It doesn't need to be linear but I like to feel, as I progress through a book, that I am unfolding a mystery. Isn't life a mystery? And don't we all want to tell our stories and hear the stories of others? Remember the last time a friend or relative started to describe an exciting event but got lost in digressions and details. The temptation is to give in to suspense and ask, 'but what happened next,' knowing they still haven't got to the exciting part.

A passive main character is a challenge to the best of novelists, and the most indulgent of readers. I feel like I am dragging myself through the pages of static fiction. Like a bore who monopolizes the conversation, a story where nothing happens is a waste of time.

Here again, there are exceptions for style. Hamlet is great because Shakespeare dramatizes the Dane's inner conflict with so much virtuosity. There is even a play within a play so we can watch the drama unfold on multiple levels.

So there's my answer. I read for story first, but if the characters and fictional universe of a novel are poorly drawn, I won't force myself to finish it. Conversely, if the writing and the ideas are strong enough, as in poetry, they can stand alone.