For me as a reader, plot is secondary. The thing I need most is a richly imagined world.
I want the sense from the author that the world is deep and broad and that there are a billion little details that they aren’t telling me, just waiting for me to discover on the next page, in the next chapter, or the next novel.
I want to not just feel but know that whatever fantastical element there is in the world, be it magic or ESP or ultratechnology, is governed by rules and I have to see those rules matter to the story in some ways, great and small.
I want the sense that the minor character who walks on for a paragraph woke up that morning stepped on DUPLO brick, overcooked their eggs Benedict and was annoyed by that but still kissed their partner and newborn, and then gave the dog scritchies as they exited their apartment and walked to the elevator, discovered it was out order, and decided that taking the stairs was probably a healthier choice anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, the plot is the way that the author moves the reader through and explores the world the author created. The best stories have both a rich world and a compelling plot, but if I have to choose one or the other, I will nearly always choose the rich world.
And as an author (and, not at all coincidentally, a game master) I create the world long before I create the plot, and I create it as deep and wide as I can. And I positively love doing it.
I owe about half of this love for deeply realized worlds to Frank Herbert’s Dune (the other half comes from JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings). And it’s why I love Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center Saga, David Brin’s Uplift novels, Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and the Potterverse.
Which brings me to the recent trailer for the Dune remake. Take a quick watch:
I want to believe that this version of the movie will be better than the last one, and it probably will be. But that’s because the first Dune movie remains one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. So the bar is set really, really low. Like subterranean.
What’s worse is that the first movie was an awful rendition of the deeply realized world created by Herbert.
The problem as I see it is that the far future universe created by Herbert is so rich and the story so dense that it may be nearly impossible to portray it on screen, at least not in a measly two or three hours. Maybe a full trilogy, and not the kind of trilogy that The Hobbit was stretched out into. Maybe.
So will I see the new Dune? Probably eventually. But almost certainly not in the theaters. I’ll wait for it to come out on Amazon where I can watch it at my leisure and, if I hate it, I’m only out a rental.
On the other hand, Dune is one of those novels that I reread every five years or so, and the new trailer does make me want to reread it again. And if the worst thing that happens from the movie is I get to sit down and reread one of my favorite books in an amazing world, it’s still a win for me.