Monday, September 21, 2015

The Plot Thickens

The Ninja and the Diplomat starts with a perverse idea. An "asset" of the Chinese Intelligence Agency reports that he has learned of a plot by China to attack its Southeast Asian neighbors. The Agency loses contact with him even though he is on their watch-list. The acting chief of the agency reports this to a confidante and confesses puzzlement.

It turns out that the foreign "asset" is an arms dealer who has spotted the markings of the People's Army on the crate containing some weapons he was selling to a Southeast Asia rebel group and thought by this means to alert Chinese intelligence. (An educated man, he allows that he might have composed a haiku but felt his skills to be rusty.) But the theft of arms is an important security issue for the Chinese, especially when nuclear weapons are discovered to be missing. So the plot thickens and continues to develop.

I did not set out with this plot fully developed when I started  writing the novel. In fact, I let my characters determine how the plot should unfold. An early reader has commented on how complicated the plot turns out to be and this reminded me of the concern on the part of many of my fellow authors that a review not contain "spoilers." Groups on Goodreads that do wonderful service for authors by organizing and encouraging reviews often enjoin their members to avoid giving the plot away. Some explicitly allow an author to request that reviews be altered if there is any element that might be deemed "spoiler" material. For no other reason may an author request a change in a review or its rating.

This puzzles me as a reader. I have read most of the books I enjoy more than once--The Lord of the Ring and the Harry Potter novels at least three times. Fans of Agatha Christie, Trollope, Dickens, Faulkner or Larry McMurtry must surely have read their books over and over. Nobody I know reads the Iliad to find out what happened or is bothered by the fact that the plots of Hamlet or The Merchant of Venice are so well known. I confess to allowing myself the pleasure of re-reading The Alexandria Quartet and Proust every ten years or so.

So what is this thing about "spoilers"? 

I like to think that even when readers have figured out the plot of  The Ninja or The Chinese Spymaster, they will continue to wonder about other aspects of the stories. Are the characters as "detached" as some reviewers have found? Do they not reflect on why they might appear so? Perhaps I shall add some extracts from these books to this blog to encourage re-thinking on this matter.

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