Q: What’s your favorite story?
A: It may be that, as I read recently, there really is only one story: Things are not as they seem. As for favorite ready-made plots, I honestly do not have one I favor over any other in the sense of plot mechanics or story movement. I am much more drawn to themes, which grow out of characterization. One of my personal maxims is that what happens in a story can never be more engaging than the people it happens to. Without characters who elicit emotion, a story is artless. It becomes a scholastic exercise. A writer will know this when her or his work is greeted with this soul-shriveling comment: ‘Your story was really clever.’ That indicates a tale that is a literary mousetrap, a ba-da-bum of words leading (rather than inviting) the reader toward a prefab conclusion. The reader has to care. I vastly prefer sympathetic characters to tell my stories, though some successful writers manage with sets of players who elicit no empathy whatsoever. (I don’t care for this sort of work.)
As far as themes, my favorite is probably personal redemption. A Christmas Carol wasn’t about three ghosts hounding an old man; it was about a miser’s spiritual reclamation. I also like, in this mode of personal redemption, to tell the big story through a small lens. I often put relatively insignificant characters (as far as their place in my imagined society or future) in the foreground and have them fight their little battles, while commenting on something much bigger–i.e., a character resists some oppressive aspect of a futuristic society, making the struggle immediate and desperate, rather than broad and epic. In my stories an evil empire might crumble, but you’ll find out about it through a guy trying to put together the money to cover next month’s rent.