What’s the story?

A recent article regarding spoilers in comic books has reawakened my interest in the role of plot in a story. This article cited research which produced the surprising finding that people enjoyed suspenseful stories more if the crucial plot twists were spoiled for them in advance.

This counterintuitive relevation has made me consider the way I produce my stories, and has helped me to articulate my long-held beliefs into a coherent form. I have come to realise that the true mission statement of The Lesser Evil and its sequels is fundamentally tied to the idea that plot events are secondary, even incidental, to the enjoyment of a story.

Just last night, I began putting together a grant application for The Road to Hell. In it, I drew attention to the popular perception of comics as surface-y. As juvenile sensationalism, incapable of subtlety or subtextual complexity. (As researched in Academaesthetics)

In essence, this perception exists because comics are seen as events-focused. As plot-driven, rather than character-driven. (And God forbid anyone should think comics are capable of being allegorical!)

With The Lesser Evil and The Road to Hell, I have attempted to put together a story that, on its surface, seems instantly familiar. Indeed, the events of the story will surprise no one, and seem utterly inevitable. But that’s the point: if the story can be easily absorbed, with little attention required on the part of its audience, then extra attention can be devoted to processing the subtext, the subtleties and the various complexities under the surface.

Though perhaps it is a faux pas to say that plot doesn’t matter. Of course it does. The plot is not just the vehicle that gets the characters to their destination, but also the bitumen and road signs that guide their way (in this metaphor, style and imagery would be the weather and scenery). Without the vehicle, the journey would quite clearly stall. But at the end of the day, the fact that the vehicle reached its destination is only important because of its cargo: the characters and subtext, and the fact that they reached their respective endpoints.

To continue with this somewhat clumsy car metaphor, what makes a journey enjoyable is rarely the make and model of the vehicle, but the interactions in the car, the scenery outside, and the anticipation of destination.

What I am trying to draw attention to here is that truly great stories can survive catastrophic spoilers, if the other elements of the story are able to elicit sufficient delight in the audience. For my part, strongly written characters that influence plot events to the point where the end point seems utterly inevitable are what compel me to reread my favourite stories ad infinitum. If those events can also be said to be a metaphor for the inner turmoil of the protagonist, so much the better!

The point is, and the mission statement of my work is, that a unique plot doesn’t matter. Some of history’s best plots are equally engaging on the fiftieth viewing as they were on the first. Under the surface of the story is where the true magic happens.

The Lesser Evil’s plot is highly derivative. Of course it is; it would be ridiculous of me to pretend otherwise. But its subtext is, to my knowledge, unique. Its messages are tightly tied into the plot events and its characters are allegory as much as they are people.

And by presenting a standard, paint-by-numbers story, perhaps in your quest to engage with the work, you will read a little deeper, and perhaps enjoy the whole book more as a consequence.

The Lesser Evil is available for sale.