Going Plotless

In my last post I described the rule-breaking writing exercises I’m working on with my writing group. I promised to post an example:

Don’t write a tight plot. Sounds easy, right? But here we want to focus on how to write a story with multiple trajectories that don’t quite add up. How might this work?


Trisha ran.

A mourning dove flew about, ready to lay some eggs, searching. For what? She’d know it when she saw it.

A roadrunner hopped up to the edge of a patio covered in glossy Saltillo tile, recently sealed. It watched the large docile creature sitting at a white bistro table, a man eating a turkey sandwich. The roadrunner didn’t know the turkey was turkey, but that didn’t matter. It wondered in that indistinct animal way whether the tile would be slippery, whether it was trustworthy. The roadrunner made its move.

A woman gazed out her front window over her kitchen sink. She always happened to be doing the dishes. Trisha appeared to her as a flash of sunny blonde hair moving in that smooth manner of golf carts, the ones that seem to glide over the hills, turning without needing to slow, almost liquidly. The girl didn’t have things in her ears, those gadgets they usually have. Good for her. Live a little. The woman went to the pantry and used a wooden spoon to knock down a box of low sodium wheat thins from a high shelf. It fell onto the counter and she dove out of its trajectory. It landed on its side and spun a bit, but stopped at the edge of the counter. A few crackers fell to the floor, and her Yorkie looked up at her with a question in his eyes. Was she wearing a bra? The woman looked down at her own very liberated chest. The Yorkie, being a Yorkie, acted like he wasn’t all that interested, but he circled around, his little paws tap-tapping coyly, always coming back.

The roadrunner hopped up, landing on the hard solid foot of the large docile creature who appeared to be taking in some form of nourishment.

The man did not move a muscle. He tried to stop breathing. He couldn’t believe his luck. What a story this would make, a roadrunner landing on his shoe, begging for food.

“Go on, Yogi. You can eat it,” the woman squealed, pointing at a nearby cracker, snapping her fingers. “C’mon.” Live a little. She didn’t want to bend over to pick up the crackers. Her back hurt.

The roadrunner hopped back down, forgetting its previous concern about the tile. It was only a little harder to walk on the tile.

The Yorkie sniffed at the perfect squares which were somehow not broken from the impact of the fall.

Trisha turned the corner. Easy enough given the perfect curve of the sidewalk, one which widened at turns. This curved bit of sidewalk had been inspected recently for tripping hazards (anything over 1/4”), along with the rest of the street.

The Yorkie’s nostrils flared. Millions and trillions of bits of information flew into a black tunnel that opened into a wet cave. Things we don’t know.

In any case, the sidewalk wasn’t the problem. A palo verde stuck its green claw out into Trisha’s path. It reached for her as if animated by her arrival, but really it dipped in the gust of wind which had just picked up violently for a second. The green claw had smaller green claws, all of which were armed with needles. All this claw-ness would later be masked by thousands or millions or some other high number of flowers, cartoon shapes of crayon yellow. But it wasn’t that time of year. Now the palo verde looked like a massive pile of homogeneously green sticks randomly stacked on top of a wandering trunk. The trunk the same blah-green as the sticks, except for a few brown marks where it’d been scorched.

The microburst of wind and the bob of this palo verde branch sent some number of insects into the uniform blue sky. It was the kind of dusty day that obscured distant mountains.

In a swimming pool in a Santa Fe style house way out on the east side—granite counter! stainless appliances heated pool travertine thru out. Gorgeous Mtn.views a Must See!—a lizard clung to a vertical island, a bit of mineral deposit which had collected on the edge of the pool. Its “fingers” worked best on natural things, not so well on slippery tile, and the lizard just happened to be lucky enough to drop over on a spot where the minerals had deposited themselves over the tile. The lizard eyed the water each time the wind kicked up a slight wave. If it weren’t for the occasional eye movement, this lizard would look exactly like the lizard a few blocks down that had gotten itself stuck in-between a window pane and a screen. A perfect specimen of natural taxidermy, fried in the sun, still clinging to the screen, immortalized forever like a pressed flower. That lizard was about the same size as this one, about the size of two quarters placed side-by-side. A cute little guy. It was that time of year for lizards to be out and about, and for them to be about this size. This lizard clinging to the mineral deposit, it flattened itself into a slit of shade from the overhanging concrete edge of the pool. The overhang saved it from frying in the sun. It also prevented it from escaping. Not in any real way, but in a lizard-brained way. In the same way that the window-fried lizard could’ve theoretically gotten free if it had known how to go out the way it came in.

The man smiled and called out, “Here roadrunner,” tossing out a piece of bread. What a story.

The roadrunner hopped back, dodging an object. It stopped at a safe distance and reconsidered.

The palo verde moved very slowly toward the things that gave it life. What gave this particular palo verde tree life, or more of it, temporarily, was the growth of this branch in this direction.

The HOA had not counted this branch as a maintenance issue since it didn’t obstruct the path.

One hot current of air wanted to go one way, a cooler current wanted to go another way, and there was a sort of atmospheric traffic jam. The palo verde branch got jostled down, out of harm’s way. It bent, but didn’t break.

The pool lizard clung on.

The other lizard clung too.

The endless blue sky so uniform it might as well have been a paint color sample stayed right where it was.

The man threw another piece of bread, bigger this time.

The pool lizard tried to escape, but rediscovered the problem of the overhang. Now it faced the other direction, away from the water.

The roadrunner looked at the bread. It wanted the turkey, not the bread.

The man threw another piece of bread, further away this time.

The roadrunner walk-hopped away.

The man called out to it, but the roadrunner disappeared into a wash, behind some treacherously thorny stuff which the man didn’t feel like getting into.

The mourning dove picked up a stick, flew it to some high-traffic location which she’d picked out for her nest, tried to fit the stick into her nest and noted several big animated creatures moving in the proximity of her real estate. She dropped the stick onto the ground. She stood on the edge of her new digs—the lid of a box filled with garden tools, tools that needed to be used on a regular basis now, since it was that time of year—and looked at nothing for a while with her thoughtless black eyes. The big creatures backed away. She didn’t look at the stick she’d just dropped. She didn’t look at all the other sticks she’d dropped, the ones right there. She flew off in search of a new stick.

Trisha ducked.

The roadrunner came back to the man. The man finally gave him what he wanted, a bit of turkey. The roadrunner gobbled this down and waited for more, which came forthwith. The roadrunner ate as much as he could, then waited for a big one, a nice fat slice. He snapped it up in his lethal beak and ran off with it to find his mate, who waited for him behind some prickly pear. He showed it to her.

The man with the sandwich chased the roadrunner down into the wash to see where it was going with the turkey. He saw the female roadrunner and this confirmed what he’d heard about roadrunner mating rituals. My discarded turkey is like a giant diamond ring. Turkey bling. He couldn’t wait to tell his friends how he helped a fellow male get laid. The female seemed ready to submit, but at the last second she ran away with the Albertson’s deli meat dangling from her beak.

The palo verde got a few of Trisha’s golden hairs, but she got one of its claws, one of the dead ones, one which had dried out and for that reason snapped off easily. She swiped it off her head without missing a step. The stick flew onto some blah beige landscaping rocks and rested there, virtually hidden.

The man with the sandwich tripped and landed in the prickly pear. In his palms there no longer resided a turkey sandwich, but instead a story, one he would not share.

The mourning dove picked up a new stick. This was a perfectly good stick. It caught her eye because shiny things were attached to it. She flew her treasure to her new home. A big featherless biped stood near her space. She didn’t notice until she’d nearly reached her abode, at which point startled, dropped her golden stick, fluttered into a nearby mesquite. Another nest grew under her box, a better nest than her own, but she didn’t know. She flew away, searching for a new stick.

“Get into the fucking car.”

Trisha ran faster. She knew she couldn’t out run a car, but she ran anyways.

A wave of pool water splashed the lizard and cooled its scaly back, but it did not take this as a boon. It twirled frantically, its tail whipping. Then a basket scooped it up. It’s little legs flailed randomly until it fell over the the edge of the basket and into the cool blue.

The Yorkie brought his delicate pink tongue down to a square. The square lifted, stuck to his wet tongue, then dropped. “Yes, you can eat it. Go on.” He looked up with a question in his eyes.


Yogi took the square into his teeth, carefully, so as not to lose a crumb, and absconded with it to his hiding space between the ottoman and the couch.

I never meant to write this much, but I found myself needing a lot of space to include multiple POVs. Another woman in the writing group managed to complete this exercise in less than one page. She used a sort of free-association to tell her tale, but instead of creating a thematic unity the way I’ve done here, she literally linked the story together by referencing the last sentence. I’d never seen that done before. It worked well in a strange way.

Have you ever gone plotless? Was it on purpose? What did you learn? 

36 thoughts on “Going Plotless

    • Tina,
      If you want to use indentions, your best bet might be to put it in an html pre tag, as I’m going to try to do below.

           Trisha ran.
           A mourning dove flew about, ready to lay some eggs, searching. For what? She’d know it when she saw it.
           A roadrunner hopped up to the edge of a patio covered in glossy Saltillo tile, recently sealed. It watched the large docile creature sitting at a white bistro table, a man eating a turkey sandwich. The roadrunner didn’t know the turkey was turkey, but that didn’t matter. It wondered in that indistinct animal way whether the tile would be slippery, whether it was trustworthy. The roadrunner made its move.

      That said, it’s usually easier to just put blank lines between the paragraphs.

      Liked by 1 person

        • If the original is in Word, I’ve had some success using the paragraph settings to add a blank line between the paragraphs, saving to an HTML file, opening that file in a web browser, and copying and pasting the displayed text into the WP editor. It’s an irritating amount of clicking, but can usually be done in a couple of minutes. You’d think someone at Microsoft would have made this easier by now.

          Liked by 1 person

            • The reason has to do with the nature of HTML. Paragraphs separated by blank lines long ago became standard formatting on the web, and the WP editor pretty much makes it the only option. If you were on a completely free form web site, you could do something with CSS, but I’m doubtful WordPress would let you do it within their framework.

              Have you considered saving it as a PDF, uploading it to your blog media library, and just linking to it from the post?


  1. This is so wonderfully awful, I couldn’t stop reading; though I may have dozed off at some point, not sure 😉 Anyway, when I resumed, the lizard was gone. You had waaaay too much fun! Nevertheless, and turkey or not, I’d leave out the foul language. Anyway, are you sure this piece is actually “plotless, ” or is it a matter of “too much plot”? There must be a way to analyze this philosophically. 🙂 Thanks for the entertainment – I’m sure this was an interesting writing exercise for your group to do and discuss! 🙂
    Did you try the old-fashioned, manual “five spaces at the start of each paragraph”?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Over the years, I’ve read way too many plotless novels, or novels that are light on plot. Some of them are considered masterpieces. I’ve steadily become bored with novels that lack plot. That doesn’t mean I just read Dan Brown these days, but I’ve become very wary of stories that aren’t really stories.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve encountered a lot of published short stories that match that description. So much so that I’ve mostly given up on them.

      There’s actually an indie science fiction series about people on a spaceship leading their day to day lives (I think it’s called the “Trader’s Tales”). At least in the first book, nothing happens but that day to day stuff. The idea sounded interesting so I picked up the first book. It was entertaining…for the first 50 or so pages. I was never able to finish the book.

      Liked by 3 people

        • I used to wonder if Tolkien couldn’t have gotten away with just writing a travel log of someone touring his world, since The Hobbit and LOTR plots are largely just excuses for showing different aspects of that world. You don’t realize how crucial conflict (or at least a compelling question) is until it’s missing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha…so true. With Tolkien the world is a major part of the plot since each region feels symbolic and entails new kinds of dangers, but without those dangers, I’m not sure the territorial symbolism would be interesting enough on its own. I did get a sort of episodic feeling, though, but that’s probably my lack of understanding. (I read the books a very long time ago, back in high school. Not exactly a ripe time in my literary cognition.)

            Liked by 1 person

            • From what I remember, Tolkien probably would have resisted any symbolic interpretations. He revealed in the author preface to LOTR that he loathed allegory. It seems like he violated a lot of story structure rules. He got away with it because his world was so rich and carefully worked out.


  3. Because it lacks plot, this requires more concentration and effort to read, but it is rewarding nevertheless, in the way poetry is. I liked your use of animals and also the green claws of the palo verde!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Right. It’s a very different reading experience. I think we were just talking about Joyce a while ago. Finnegans Wake is what I would call plotless from the closeup view of the reader or listener. If you survey the work as a whole, a plot is discernible, but for all practical purposes, it’s not.


  4. If you really want indented paragraphs (there is a CSS way to do it, but you’d need the WP package that allows you to customize your own CSS), the easiest way is with the “non-blank-space” which HTML is forced to render as a space. Always. (Otherwise, HTML always collapses any amount of “whitespace” (spaces, tabs, blank lines, etc) into a single space.)

    You need to edit at the HTML level and use this:  . Be sure to include the closing semi-colon! Each one of those gives you one space.

    There are other ways, but you’d have to learn HTML coding. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “A big featherless biped stood near her space.”

    Love it! You have a knack for writing multiple POVs, that’s for sure. Even more impressive is the fact that most of these POVs were not human. Kudos to the strength of your imagination and observation skills. 🙂

    I would have to read the story again since I was busy absorbing the sensory details and deadpan descriptions. I love what you wrote and think you did something I would like to do more of, which is to entertain my intuition more and let events unfold naturally.

    An observation: you put more power in the hands (or paws/wings) of your characters. That’s something I noticed when I quickly wrote the draft one of my current work-in-progress manuscript. I had a skeleton of a plot, but whenever the plot failed to hold up I would rely on my characters to lead the way. I was a full blown discovery writer in the past, and that was my conclusion as well. So I think going plotless is a great way to let your characters surprise you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Millie! Yeah, I tried to work with various POV characters (since that was in the original exercise description) and when I wrote this, I just tried not to worry about how it would come together. Picking animals and inanimate objects to write about helped delineate POVs a lot, although I wasn’t aware of this at the time when I wrote it. I’d love to write in omniscient someday, to have it come naturally. This exercise helped because it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. I told everyone in the group to just throw it together…don’t dwell, don’t scrutinize. Just focus on the mission and expect nothing more than a few paragraphs. If the writing isn’t successful, so what. (We’ve been together long enough to have that foundation of trust; we can submit our worst and not worry about getting pummeled with attacks and stupid criticisms.)

      I’d expected that we’d end up with pieces that seemed like they were ripped out of a book somewhere in the middle, but most of the writers ended up writing full-blown short stories with some of the exercises. Which is good!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The fact that you and your group created complete stories from this exercise just goes to show that the magic happens when you remove the need to criticize/dwell mid-stride. Totally agree with the “so what” attitude. Just get it all out there and see what you’re capable of writing. It’s really inspirational to read about. Keep ’em coming! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmmm, this story to me was basically a kind of tease. I kept waiting for you to tie it all together even though you said right on top that you weren’t going to tie it all together.

    What did you think of the experience?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well it was an easy exercise for me. I can totally do plotless, but making everything tie together is another story.

      With this exercise, I did feel like I wanted to tie things together. I started doing that a little. The branch the girl knocks off the palo verde is the same one the mourning dove picks up and drops. I felt like using all these various threads and having them come together in some grand finale, a butterfly effect. That would’ve taken a great deal of time and editing and I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love these and the idea! It sort of reminds me of drabbles in the fanfiction community. If you haven’t run into them, they are really similar: basically scenes where not much happens, but (when well done) a lot is said. They are often between characters, like little interactions or dialogues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I love working with those little interactions to see how much can be said with small gestures and details. Going plotless was a fun rule-breaking exercise…I write things with no plot all the time, but I’ve never done it intentionally. 🙂


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