Daisy Jones to the review

Dear RWD member,

In your writing, what is more important -- the big picture plot or the micro-plots of individual chapters?

To me, Daisy Jones and the Six suggests that the latter is more important than we might think.

This week, we continue the story of Daisy Jones and the Six, reading up to the publication of the Rolling Stone review (and Billy's reaction). 

Merry Xmas to all who celebrate!

Synopsis: Billy and Daisy struggle to limit their drug use and record good music. Billy comes out of rehab and records an average album -- Daisy is brought in to sing on one song and it becomes their breakout hit, despite Billy hating what Daisy's interpretation says about him and his marriage. 

Daisy starts touring with the Six, and while she and Billy are electric on stage together, they aren't able to connect off stage. Daisy escapes her abusive manager; members of the Six fall in love and grow angry at Billy.

At a pivotal moment, Billy steps in to make sure the reviewer for Rolling Stone sees Daisy in the best light -- the reviewer announces that Daisy is a pivotal member of the group. 

Craft lesson: micro-plot vs big picture plot

One challenge writers have: they want to explain something to the reader, something about how life works, or how this fictional world works, or why a character behaves a certain way -- BUT, on the other hand, they generally have to present these explanations via a main character or small group of main characters.

And those main characters don't care at all about explaining things. They don't want to help the reader understand addiction or the thriving music scene of the 1970s. They are trying to achieve things, fix things, hide things... and generally, individual scenes and chapters are stronger when the characters are focused on those wants.

Take the dramatic question: why does Billy dislike Daisy at the start? 

There is only a limited big picture uncertainty about whether the two of them will begin singing together. After all, this outcome is suggested by the very title of the novel. But because Billy's actions flow from his character's wants, the scenes where Daisy begins singing with the band feel tension-filled and rich. To get the story to the next step, the band has to overcome enormous resistance from Billy. 

What does Billy want at the very start of the novel? To be a successful singer, yes -- but also to not be an amoral screw up like his dad. 

Why does the drug-crisis upset him so much? His addictions threaten that original goal (not being an absent loser like his dad). 

What does he do to fix the problem? He writes and records a song that presents a better version of himself.

(Note: the things characters do to "fix" their problems do not need to be sensible or logical.)

What does Billy do when confronted with evidence that his solution isn't working on a level that the rest of society will accept (aka the song, as a song, isn't very good)? He is shocked and stunned. 

How does he react when Daisy records her verses in a way that shatters that ideal vision of himself and his marriage? He is furious.

How does he react when it becomes clear that the Daisy-version is superior? He goes back to singing it his way (live). 

The character, in other words, is trying his best to stick to his original goal. That makes him a great protagonist, even if he infuriates everyone around him. 

Now, as a protagonist, Billy eventually adapts. Slowly the evidence mounts that Daisy's presence on the song can help him achieve his other, more public goal -- becoming a famous musician -- and he slowly shifts. A level of decency appears when Daisy has an opportunity in front of a famous music critic, a kindness that is not predicted by my motivation-flow above... 

In other words, the character-action pattern is established by Reid -- and then broken in a satisfying way (Billy isn't ONLY a jerk with a guilty conscience).

It's fantastic writing.

A philosophical aside

I have been thinking a lot about this quotation from the French critic Paul Valery. 

“Talent without genius isn’t much, but genius without talent is nothing at all.”

This feels like such an apt summation of the way everyone in the story sees Daisy (genius) and the Six (talent). 

What do you think about these chapters, or my aside?

  • What if you have neither? Please don’t say ‘that’s where my lessons come in’. I appreciate you’re offering exactly what I need for my writing to grow and thank you for this freebie. I am busy moving house right now but New Year’s intention…get back on track. Including your courses. Merry Holidays to all.

    • Linda from the Lowcountry says:

      Don’t sell yourself short, Munirah. All of us have some talent; few have genius, but it’s what you do with what you have that counts. (Now off to take my own words to heart.)

    • Hi Munirah — forgive me, but I wasn’t sure what your comment was referring to. Are you asking about the idea of macro story vs micro or the idea of talent vs genius?

      If the latter — then I think it is absolutely critical for working artists not to think about that question at all, at least in the sense of being qualified to do writing. Let the critics / reviewers / readers decide if you are talented or imbued with genius. That’s not the business of the writer to worry about, apart from, perhaps, some very specific strategic questions.

  • joycecorey says:

    Daniel, your thoughts made me appreciate the book more. Dare I say that I thought this was just another story about a rock band/drugs/drama? I wasn’t seeing this because I thought I had seen it all before. Thank you.

  • thehouseofullrich says:

    Okay, I give up. I will gladly read what you have to say, DDW, about how this book is written but I have NOT connected to any characters, and specifically BECAUSE I hadn’t connected, I went forward and read the last interview and then I knew why. There are no consequences for these characters and even when the author states there is, the characters don’t act much like they have to pay any piper at all for their various deeds. Thus far in the book the only character that has seen a glimmer of need for change is Billy, but not enough to make me root for him, or care what happens to him. It could be because I knew people like these people…and in each generation there are people like these who don’t seem to have to be accountable, but I still feel these characters are opportunistic, entitled and just slide. I don’t feel the struggle. I will continue to listen to the views here but I’m done with the book. I have better things to do with my time. 🙂

  • I’m wondering if the author came up with The Six not as a reference to, but was familiar with the term because of the group of (primarily) French composers Les Six –

    Just thought someone might be interested in that.

    Annnyyyways, I think the quote is quite apt for the forces competing in this book.

  • More on the Valery quote:
    This is somewhat difficult to contextualize when you haven’t yet read the full book. However, “talent without genius isn’t much” – the talented person *may* become moderately successful and is often interested in their (often public) success. “…but genius without talent is nothing at all” I interpret to mean that a genius can see what will cut through a field, what advances turn their domain in a different direction. YET, without talent, they probably don’t have the patience/interest in pursuing the “soft skills” (the PR, the business side of things) to ensure that such advances make their way into the broader field, thereby minimizing (if not nullifying) the potential changes that could advance the field.
    Billy is almost equally concerned with his work getting out there and liked and loved – which there’s nothing wrong with. The work is obviously worthwhile; the evidence = people like it.
    Now Daisy, she will sit in a room and create the same song for solely herself that she would if she were told, “I need a song by tomorrow…for the Superbowl!”…she does have an interest in success once she joins the band it seems…but it is a drop in the hat (forgive the cliche, plz!) compared to her internal vision. Genius serves the larger world; talent can serve the world but seems to be more driven by the self/ego. Therefore, if the genius doesn’t have the talent, then that holds the entire field back (perhaps even allows the field to regress or fall into a place where the root concerns of the field aren’t cared for much). If the talent is held back, this quote implies that there will be no far reaching consequences, almost as if saying “Well, in the whole scheme of things…maybe a few good songs don’t get written…” whereas with genius, macro changes won’t take places (e.g., consider transitions between Baroque and Classical music periods, pop as an independent genre from rock).
    Taken as a whole, “Talent without genius isn’t much, but genius without talent is nothing at all” reveals the profound human condition that we might be able to conceive of the *ideal* situation, but making it so is a far different situation. In other words, as a certain Rolling Stone has sung, “You can’t always get what you want.”

    • This is wonderful — thank you so much for sharing, Melissa. I love the idea that talent tends and expands an era, while genius starts new eras / discovers new possibilities.

      The novel illustrates this very clearly by the way Daisy plays no role in the production of the songs, which is what consumes everyone else on some level. The editing process goes on without her — she would be incapable of duplicating the Six’s work on her own — but everyone in the group accepts that there is a crucial element that she provides — the bit that the listener is actually focused on — the voice and the lyrics. Additionally, she has a kind of originality / field knowledge / genre knowledge that lets her re-write Billy’s work to make it “better” — the others are incapable of that.

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