Larry Brooks at Storyfix has a good explanation of plot, and why stories need one [Novelists: Two Empowering Little Mind-Models That Just Might Change Everything For You]
Plot is the creation of character and dramatic dynamics that lead to, point toward, that call for, that require… resolution.
A story in any genre (other than literary) that asks the reader simply to observe a character or his/her life… a story that episodically tells the life story of a fictional character without it leading to something that must be resolved… a story that exists to show us eras of a character’s life, novels that read like a collection of shorter stories, moving from one period in that life to to the next… if they are in any genre other than “literary fiction,” the project is at risk.
One of those just crossed my desk, from a graduation of an MFA program, where the word “plot” is likely never to uttered aloud. It was a YA, and it was nothing other than “the adventures of” the hero. Unconnected “stuff that happened” to this protagonist, peppered with backstory and inner landscape.
There are magic words found at the bottom line of this issue: genre fiction needs to give readers something to root for… rather than just something to observe.
Ask your reader to care about where it is all headed. To root for someone and/or something, to fear something or someone that is antagonistic blocking your hero’s path along the core story spine. To engage them emotionally, not just because they sympathize with the hero, but because feel and relate to the stakes of the story.
Genre fiction is the antithesis of “slice of life” storytelling.
Plots are driven by stakes. Even in YA and romance, where any and all of the available sub-genres are available fodder.
Without plot, writing is little more than a literary exercise. That may be entertaining to the writer, and it may be impressive to literature professors, but if it doesn’t engage readers, then what’s the point?