Novel-tea: no plot, just vibes
Novel-tea is The Tartan’s literary and language opinion column, so if you like hot takes and reading about cool ideas in the literary community then this is the place for you!! If you have your own hot take to add to this column, do not hesitate to contact us.
A book has many important components, and arguably the most significant one is its plot. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, in fiction, a plot is “the structure of interrelated actions, consciously selected and arranged by the author.” This crucial narrative element has been getting some criticism online with the popularity of novels that have “no plot, just vibes.” But, what does that actually mean?
After extensive TikTok watching, I have found that these books are not actually plotless, but are simply character-driven stories rather than action-driven. This means that narrative and characterization are at the heart of these stories, to the point where plot (the sequence of actions and events) seems to take a backseat. The trend in literary fiction, in particular, seems to focus on really getting inside characters' heads rather than looking to action and movement to drive the story forward.
One such book that I recently finished is an incredible novel “Loop” by Brenda Lozano, in which not much happens, besides what’s in the narrator’s head. The whole story surrounds a woman waiting for her boyfriend Jonás to return back from a trip. The book acts as a pseudo-notebook/diary for the narrator where she describes every observation and thought she has while waiting. It’s an ode to love, loneliness, and writing. I loved every second of this book, but I honestly can’t name a single event that happened outside the narrator's consciousness. However, I felt what the narrator felt. I felt close to her, understood by her, and was fascinated by her inner dialogue.
That closeness to the human psyche, that feeling of understanding, is what I believe people love about these books. In a world where we are all increasingly desensitized to the horrific things that happen around us, we can look to books to bring us back to our humanity. In characters, we are able to find faulty, interesting, people that make us understand our own flaws.
Am I saying that we should stop producing books that are plot driven? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that it makes sense in light of COVID and an increasing physical distance driven by socializing online that people want to get close to characters.
Particularly, in America, there is a prevalent culture of mental-health self-diagnosis and internal angst. This widespread feeling is driven by a desire to figure out why we are the way we are. So much happens in the world around us that it can be refreshing to read books about internal reflection and conflict, rather than external action.
In short, no plot, just vibes has the power to help us find ourselves through others.