I have to preface this by saying I’m not criticizing other reviewers. Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and to dislike a book for any reason! But it’s things I’ve seen in reviews that got me thinking about this topic.
This year, I’ve noticed a few of the books I loved got some negative reviews that complained about the plot being slow, or the plot being simple and not having much to it, or a certain element of the plot being pointless, or the whole story being pointless. And I didn’t even necessarily disagree. I’m sure I’ve said some of these things myself before too. But I’ve changed my mind on this and don’t automatically see them as a bad thing anymore, and that’s what I want to talk about.
I will be mostly referring to books, but I suppose this could apply to any form of storytelling or media, so feel free to include those in your thoughts or comments!
We’re taught a lot of things about storytelling, whether in school or social media or communities we’re a part of or even the stories we consume. We’re taught that a book is supposed to have XYZ. And it’s generally good advice. It’s a good starting point. It’s also completely fair for someone to only like books that fit certain expectations.
But strict rules are limiting. Sometimes an author wants to do something differently, or the strict rules just don’t really work with the kind of story they want to tell. And I’m trying to be more open-minded about that.
When it comes to plot specifically, I don’t know if I would enjoy a book with no plot at all (though I might be willing to give it a try if it sounded interesting enough). However, I don’t mind if the plot isn’t super significant. I enjoy a good plot, but I usually read books for the characters. For me, a great plot with meh characters is probably going to be enjoyable but forgettable at best, whereas great characters with a meh plot can still be memorable and amazing.
That being said, in order to get into a book with a slow or simple backdrop kinda plot, I do have to like or care about or be interested in the characters.
But as long as I do love the characters or their relationships and feel invested in them, I’m finding more and more that I don’t care if the plot doesn’t have a whole lot going on, or if it doesn’t really have the beginning-middle-end story format I’ve been taught is correct, or if a winding little side plot doesn’t actually affect anything in the main storyline, or if the plot is really just something for characters to do while building up a romance, or if there is no real point or end goal, etc. Growth, relationships, happiness—those can all be goals. I think I would even enjoy more slice-of-life books that just show characters hanging out, living their lives. Because the things that happen to a character still affect them as a person, and it gives them something to do while they grow or form relationships, and it gives me, the reader, a chance to spend time with them and get to know them.
Does that mean I have no expectations or that I never get annoyed about anything regarding plots? Of course not. But it’s situational, not something I automatically dislike. I’m ok with books and plots and every thing that happens in a story not always having a point. Characters can just do things. The plot can just be there in the background. And if a book is well-written with characters I feel invested in or is just plain entertaining or interesting, I will still enjoy it!