This is from a conversation on facebook. I decided to move it here. The discussion was about the necessity of plot in a novel... It took off from an essay which argued that plots were not especially important -- I think that's what the guy was saying...
The easiest way to write a novel is to have a story line. It's traditional. People understand it. The story line is the plot. It doesn't have to be a pulp action plot. Does a book like Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities have a story line? I'm not sure, though the schtick is that Marlo Polo is telling Kubla Khan about the cities he has seen on his travels. Is it really a novel? Who cares? It's wonderful. I think of the plot as the skeleton. A small animal does not need a spine. Actually, there are some really large marine animals that don't need spines. Big jellyfish, for example... But, if you are a land animal or an ordinary work of fiction, at a certain length you need some kind of internal framework. This is the plot. I vary as to how interested I am in the plot. Sometimes not much. Sometimes quite a bit.
In my experience, if I don't have a plot in mind, the story becomes picaresque. It's one damn thing after another: Monkey's Journey to the West, which Arthur Waley cut really severely in his translation, because he thought the Chinese novel was too long and repetitious. If I have a plot in mind, then I am able to tell a story that is more complicated and less linear.
I've written novelettes and novels that began with an opening scene, even an opening line, and that's all I had. I had no idea where I was going. Either I discover a story line as I write, or the story fails. A lot of these stories are journeys. The hero or heroine travels and has experiences and by the end, something has changed -- the heroine or her world is different. The journey is the spine of the story.