Articulating a conversation with my mom:
Literary fiction, if necessary, is happy to sacrifice plot for voice. In fact, if a writer is too focused on the character taking action for their goals, it’s considered gauche.
Speculative fiction, on the other hand, will sacrifice voice for plot. In fact, if a writer has their character sitting around thinking and feeling for too long, we get twitchy.
The best literature, across the board, successfully uses both skills, voice and plot, to create characters and tell an amazing story. But which sacrifice you are willing to make determines which conversation you are in.
I’m wrapping presents for my cousin’s bar mitzvah, and I decide I want to do something special: an origami pleat in the wrapping paper that I learned at my first job fifteen years ago, working at a Barnes & Noble during the holiday rush. I used to be able to bang these things out in under thirty seconds, and it adds a little flair to an otherwise ordinary-looking package.
And I can’t remember how to do it. I screw it up, over and over. I can’t even quite remember what it’s supposed to look like, let alone how to get there. Finally I give up, smooth out the paper, and do my best to hide the creases with the simpler, traditional folds.
There was an age when everything I had ever learned, everything I had ever experienced, was right there when I needed to remember it. I was aghast at the thought of adults who couldn’t rattle off their bat mitzvah portions from memory, or recall in detail every book they’d ever read. That memory made me a prodigy, a bright kid. It was a core part of my identity. And now, I don’t know if it’s just that too much time has passed and worn away the details, or if I’ve learned too much and my brain has triaged whatever I don’t use that often. But I’m suddenly painfully aware of just how much I used to know that’s now evaporated. I’m not that person anymore. And I wonder what else I’ll lose, and who I’ll be then.