(Hope I don't get an answer like this).

I'm writing a novel where "not much happens," instead, it focuses on things that could happen. In other words, the protagonist does not directly experience love, death, or heartbreak; these things are just about to happen to her (but the novel ends before they do).

(Here is the opening scene in case you are curious).

In all the novels I've read so far, at least one person dies, or at least one person finds love or loses it.

So, I was wondering if there succesful novels where "not much happens." But most of all, how to keep the reader engaged if I decide to write one like that?

  • That actually reminds me bit of Haruki Murakami's work. He's a master of describing thoughts and seemingly mundane conversations. You might want to read some of his books like Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on the Shore. Jan 10, 2013 at 7:30
  • @Kristof Claes Actually I started writing after reading his work. Well, In those books, many things "happen" in my opinion (e.g. Naoko dies, Sumire disappears, and Kafka has sex with his mom and 'kills' his dad). But I think I know what you mean.
    – wyc
    Jan 10, 2013 at 7:40

2 Answers 2


"Something happening" doesn't have to be earth-shaking. If the character wakes up, something "happened." It's been a long time since I read it, but in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, about a prisoner in a gulag, nothing much "happens." He doesn't escape or get sprung from prison. He doesn't die or fall in love. But it's still a powerful book.

If your character wants to do something and is thwarted by some obstacle, there's your plot. That's something "happening." The obstacle can be internal or external. The character can try or not try. The character can succeed or fail. But if there's conflict, there's plot.

So if your story is building up to something big happening by means of many little things happening along the way, there's nothing wrong with that.


If you paint the world just right, it may work.

See The Plague by Camus as a famous novel where "not much happens", a representative of Existentialism. Check any Existentialist works for more examples.

Of course, in that novel there is the plague, but it's hard to describe the struggle as "dramatic". Its atmosphere is lethargically depressive. No "action", just events. Characters with their daily struggles, powerless, doing the necessary work automatically and without much emotions. I wouldn't call the story "interesting", something you'd be eager to keep reading, but it captures the reader in a kind of dreary of reading, which is hard to let go. It's definitely very immersive, and as the grim city is an enclosed enclave with no escape, and all one can do in there is wait the plague out, so the reader waits the book out, captured by the atmosphere and just trudging along with the events without a trace of enthusiasm or curiosity, fully aware nothing will happen to the end, but unable to let go. One might think the pestillence makes for a very exotic, exciting setting. It does not. The plague-struck city feels extremely normal. Still, it feels very real and you simply live the dull lives of the characters.

And once you're past, this is a memorable experience. Not a pleasant one, but profound, one that changes your outlook on the world. In hindsight, despite the utter lack of "action" this book was far more memorable than all the action-packed Conan fantasies I read as a kid.

This is to show you how a book utterly deprived of "marketing lure" can be still good, memorable, and keep the reader reading. The premise of what you write certainly seems more interesting than the premise of The Plague. I see no reason why it shouldn't succeed if you do it right. Of course doing it right will be difficult. It will be very easy to do it wrong and simply bore the reader into dropping the book after first two chapters. You will need a very captivating atmosphere if you don't deliver on actual events.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.