It runs right through the center of the literature, a deep abyss of unfathomable depth and no real way across.
On one shore is the literary – smooth, flowing, atmospheric, at its best the highly nuanced language of poetry.
On the other side are the genres, so many of them, un-put-downable, intricately plotted roller coasters, rich with story lines and ideas.
The two rarely meet, of course, but worse they stand on their respective sides and jeer at each other.
I have heard literary writers say the word ‘plot’ with a sneer, throwing out the word like a missile. I have also heard mystery writers say with scorn that the literary tribe cannot do what they do and are eaten up with the envy of bestselling numbers.
The truth is in the middle, as usual.
Neither side can do what the other can and there is a reason for this. That is how the brain is made. It has a left side and a right side and somehow literature has shifted far left or right, building no bridges across the chasm.
When you write in left brain mode, plot is easy. You can easily juggle intricate subplots but with little attention to rich language, characterization or imagery.
The right brain does the opposite. When you write from that side, your words are vivid and flowing. It’s easy to get inside the character and do stream of consciousness – but plot is hard.
So do we try to bridge the gap? No, we move further left or right.
Literary writers try to evict plot, as if that can be done. It’s like throwing out not just the baby but the whole city. When I was in college, studying literature, plot was considered a very nasty worm which had crept insidiously into the apple. You could not get it out, so everyone was trying to shave it to a hair, trying to be absurdist, modern, gritty realistic and often monotonously depressing.
Since then some plot has crept back in, thanks, perhaps to the bestseller novels and blockbuster movies.
On the other side, the writers who write complex plotted stories often complain that writing is chore and they do not enjoy it all and simply want to finish the job as fast as possible. The left brain is the result oriented brain. It cannot stop to smell the roses, it likes bullet train speed to the last page, is intolerant of mistakes and just wants the job done even if it is pitted with a few holes and awkward sentences.
Joy, delight is on the other side, in the domain of poets. On the side of the right brain. No one ever pays poets anything so it’s clear from the start that if you are writing poetry, the word money is absent from that dictionary. You write for the joy of writing, for that silken right brain flowing when the world slows down and you are lost in ink.
So why isn’t there bridge across the abyss?
It can be done. Great writers have done it and shown the way.
I think it’s in the mechanics of it.
First let the left brain do its job. Plot, outline, notes or whatever else you use. Create the structure.
Then – the first draft. Here, the right brain takes over. Forget the rules of grammar and turn off the perfectionist in your head. Just write, whatever comes with no corrections and no going back. Don’t think about it or try to correct it. Just write.
Then the left brain again, in editorial mode, coming back to edit, correct, polish and perfect.
Of course, that assumes that right brain writers will study plot and left brain writers will take the time to get into the flow. It can be done. It’s not easy. But it can be done.
Perhaps one day there will be a Laxman Jhula over the bottomless chasm.