Creative Writing Tip: Make Sure Your Plot Has Action of a Type to Meet Genre Expectations

Action. It's what your readers need.

Action. It’s what your readers need.

Today I’m continuing with a series of posts I’m writing to explore the four reasons I had to abandon a novel in progress after 100 pages and rework plot, setting, and character to get things going. This post will focus specifically on plot, genre, action, and creating the right kind of tension.

My hope is that this series of posts will, first of all, maybe help someone avoid the trap I fell into (even though I had a happy ending and am releasing the novel in question on Friday. It’s book III of my Herezoth trilogy, called The King’s Sons.)

Secondly, I hope to encourage those who, possibly, are in the process of rewriting or considering rewriting. You aren’t alone or a failure, and yes, you can write. Having to rewrite doesn’t prove the contrary.

Today, we’re on number 3 on the list: one reason I started my novel from square one again is that my plot didn’t fit my genre well enough. What do I mean by that?

Every genre comes with its “givens.” One of these givens involves the kind and intensity of action of the typical plot. The action you expect from a book categorized as a thriller is different than what you’d expect if you pick up a teen romance, right?

Consider these things we all know, but seldom  link together to compare in this kind of list. (This is a great companion to a post I wrote on high tension scenes and genre, and dispersing appropriate action scenes throughout your novel)

  • Romantic tension alone is enough to carry some plots in specific genres. For others, you need more. Sometimes much more.
  • A danger of death–even, perhaps, an ever-hovering death threat–is more or less required in some genres. Talk about adrenaline!
  • Sometimes a simple rivalry between two characters or groups can grab a reader, even when no physical danger is involved. Think sports. Think business rivals. Think a trial of someone being sued for white collar crime.
  • Chasing a love interest (romance), chasing a kidnapper (thriller), chasing serial killers who mutilate victims (horror), or chasing an escaped dog (children’s book) can all provide the proper kind and degree tension to carry a book if the genre is right.

My genre is sword and sorcery fantasy, as you know if you stop by on a regular basis. This genre often includes putting lives at stake: there are duels and battles, wars to save the world, magic and incantations with world-changing effects, villains with schemes of world domination.

You've got to keep things moving. Progressing. In an way that your genre considers "action-packed."

You’ve got to keep things moving. Progressing. In an way that your genre considers “action-packed.”

Sword and sorcery fantasy doesn’t have to put the fate of a world or kingdom at stake, but often it does, especially when/if you consider it a subgenre of epic fantasy.


My plot did involve huge stakes, or I’d intended it to. Schemes of kidnapping and the slave trade, a powerful sorcerer villain. That had potential.

The way my plot unfolded, though, the action took far too long to get rolling. I had no major action scene–no duels, no fights, no ambushes, nothing–in what would constitute the first third of the book, almost the first half. What I did have was this:

  • A Palace dinner where the politics behind a special school were celebrated
  • Lots of detail concerning that school and the people who are trying to get its doors open
  • The beginnings of a love story subplot
  • An interview with an escaped victim of the kidnapping
  • A son of the king going to the aforementioned school as a student

In other words, nothing interesting. Nothing happened at all. I introduced my villain, but he was lying low, not drawing attention to himself or threatening characters my readers would have cared about.

For my subgenre of sword and sorcery fantasy, this was a horrible, horrible novel. Could it have worked as a paranormal romance? Perhaps, with some work. But that’s not what I write, or what I read. I have no interest in paranormal romance; it’s not my cup of tea. I was meaning to write an action-packed story reminiscent of my first fantasy novel, and it just wasn’t working.

Why I started over with a new plot

I could have tried to rewrite using my original concept for the novel, cutting out some subplots and finding a way to bring the action in earlier. I might even have proved successful. I can’t say.

I abandoned my idea because I saw that the concept for my novel didn’t mesh with the first novels in my series. The issues went deeper than a poor implementation of a workable idea.

So I took the better aspects of my plot and worked them into something different. Something that clicked on every cylinder with my series, with plot points and plot twists referencing events and artifacts from each of the first two installments.

So, what do you think? What kind of action fits your genre? How do you make sure to meet reader expectations so you don’t bore them?

If you enjoyed this post,consider following my blog by email (top right corner of the page.) That way you won’t miss out on the posts to follow.

Also, remember to mark your calendars: to celebrate release day of book III, the  reformatted version of book I of my trilogy, The Crimson League, will be free for download May 31 and June 1 (Friday and Saturday). This is a great opportunity, since the story of Herezoth will be complete for all to enjoy now! Don’t miss out.


9 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: Make Sure Your Plot Has Action of a Type to Meet Genre Expectations

  1. I write sword & sorcery too, so you pretty much covered what I have to be aware of. I do find that I spread the action out a bit more depending on the overall plot. I try to make up for a long lack of action by using humor and drama. It’s hard to find a reason for characters to get into a fight when the story is more of a local investigation than a grand adventure.

    • Drama and humor can definitely work the way you describe: thanks for pointing that out! My problem is, I’m not particularly witty and I don’t try to force it so my 50k words were neither funny or dramatic in a fun way.

      • I read a lot of Spider-Man and watched a lot of Marx Brothers/Mel Brooks/etc. as a kid. So, I go for wit out of habit. Like everything else, it really takes practice to get the wit down.

  2. Reblogged this on Today's Literature: My Thoughts and commented:
    Now here is a great thing to keep in mind! Does your writing fit into genre expectations? Come read what Victoria Grefer has to say on the blog Creative Writing with the Crimson League! I found the article VERY interesting!

  3. I see what you mean about ‘appropriate for its genre’. A plot about opening a school and the politics involved would make for a fine plot. If it was a wizard school it could fit in the fantasy genre but a sword and sorcerery fantasy needs more direct action.

  4. Pingback: The Herezoth Trilogy is finally complete! Start your weekend with a sword and sorcery giveaway. | Creative Writing with the Crimson League | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  5. Pingback: Why “Balance” in Fiction Rarely Means a 50/50 Split | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  6. Pingback: AUTHORS: Need to Make a Scene Pop? Try This…. | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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