This reminds me of an awesome quote that kaigou on LJ said recently:
Stop being sincere about your story, and start being sincere about your characters...the only thing that needs to be pushed - the only party in the contact whose buttons need to be pushed - are those of the characters.
I still think about what kind of plot I'd like for any theoretical story of mine, but ultimately, it's up to the characters to guide what kind of story my novel or whatever becomes.
Basically, what I mean to say is that I approve this rant. :D (Not to imply that you need my approval or anyone else's, but.)
Oops, my HTML fails.
I would interpret the quote a little differently, but then, I tend to think of the story as the confluence of characters, plot, and setting.
And yeah. I don't think there's any plot that can ultimately be separated from the people acting in it. You could say something like the growing-up plot is "universal," but on the other hand, we have a lot more stories of how white male teenagers grow up than we have of Puerto Rican female teenagers in New York growing up- and I think they'll be different.
I just stumbled over this, and thought maybe I should give you some context: my point was that some authors are so very, very sincere about their story, and it gets tiresome after awhile. Some even go so far as being preachy, but I'm sure you know what I mean: you just get that feeling that the author takes the story oh-so-very-seriously.
As for the button-pushing, that was in reference to the recent craze in literature/genre to be "edgy". Seems to me, "edgy" is little more than a marketing term, and most often applied to stories that made the audience uncomfortable. Sure, Jane Suburb may find, say, shoplifting and skateboarding edgy, but the characters (who are doing it regularly) probably consider it pretty mundane.
A purposeful write-to-hit-buttons is easier to identify than extreme-sincerity. Just look for anything that would be unusual to the average reader, is described in breathless or titillating or dramatic tones, and yet would be an everyday-boring event to the actual character. Voila, edginess for the sake of edginess. *snore*