“Celeste And Jesse’s script… is shapeless and witless, aiming for an offhandedness in the interactions that instead comes off as contrived, or sometimes just bland” – AV Club review of Celeste And Jesse
I’m not specifically going to knock on Celeste and Jesse— I haven’t seen it, and I really have no opinion on it. But the above quote does hit right on the sweet spot of my major complaint with a lot of “independent” film, as well as some of the slush novels and plays I’ve had the displeasure of reading.
Namely, the tendency to eschew plot structure in favor of a characterization heavy, plotless meander. Three Acts are replaced with Zero Acts. In a novel, this sort of writing is downright excruciating, at least to me.
Now, this can work a bit better on stage or screen, or in short story format. But, frankly, that relies on the character coming through as being so compelling that you don’t really care that nothing much actually happens. Frankly, on stage or screen, you have a charismatic actor doing the heavy lifting. In prose of any length, it would rely on the writer’s skills… and if they aren’t doing plot work, then their character and mood work might not be all that strong either.
Not that I’m not guilty of it myself. Lord knows that the (mercifully trunked) Crown of Druthal was more about characters that I thought were fun to hang around with, and therefore it was worth sailing around on a ship and going to places and having them talk about history and language and NO PLOT REALLY HAPPENS. Well, a plot happens, but it takes a SERIOUS back seat to character and worldbuilding meander. Frankly, I decided first the route I wanted the characters to travel, and then threaded a weak plot to match that route. Not compelling writing. My several failed attempts at space opera (namely, USS Banshee) suffers from the same problem.
So I have to ask, what is the compulsion to write this sort of thing? Is it that we come up with characters and settings that, frankly, we geek out about (again, going back to the “fandom of one” problem) so much that the fact we don’t really have a story to tell doesn’t dissuade us?