Today, I wanted to continue my plot series by introducing five of the toughest aspects of plotting. These are things that are rarely, if ever, good to get wrong. They are, in some ways, the “biggies” of plotting errors.
They’re kind of obvious, but that’s only because they are such “big deals.”
Sometimes these errors are fixable, with a lot of thought and a lot of rewriting. I’ve faced them before, and had to make choices about whether to let a story go, to rewrite everything from the start, or to try to salvage what I could through strenuous editing.
There’s no one right choice when you find out your plot has major issues. It all depends on how invasive the damage is, but even more, it depends on you:
- How sick you are of the story.
- How frustrated you feel, and whether starting over or editing the heck out of that screw-up would be a worthwhile investment of time. (It’s possible to feel so annoyed and upset that emotionally you can’t concentrate enough to make any progress, no matter how much you try.)
- Your personal goals and plans for the book–for THIS BOOK in particular–and what the project means to you. Maybe just writing a first draft fulfilled your needs and you’re ready to let the story go and move on to something else.
I always say to write for you, after all.
Following are what I’ve faced as the “Big Ones” of plotting problems. In my next few posts, I think I’ll expound on each one, one at a time.
- Avoiding too many coincidences. Especially coincidences that are super important: incredibly lucky or unlucky for the protagonist and your major story arc. It’s probably not a good idea to have a major shift or development of your story hinge on pure coincidence. Coincidences that are a real stretch of the imagination–of the “this could never happen” or “the chances of this are one in a billion” type–are especially tough for readers to swallow.
- Pacing the development of your plot. Knowing what to reveal when is important. Pushing back a revelation, or moving it forward, can drastically change not only the choices your characters make, but the tone of a scene that doesn’t really have to change in substance. I feel I don’t question scene placement enough after my first drafts, and that’s important to do.
- Determining what “side” issues and descriptions contribute to your story and which are fluff. It’s the little things that make a novel feel real and bring an imaginary setting, or at the least imaginary people, to life. And it’s easy to get drawn up in “fleshing out” your story. Now, fleshing out your story and your characters is good, but there is a line when too much extra info becomes distracting, and/or too much to remember and keep track of.
- Making sure your dramatic conclusion is “big” enough. There are few things as frustrating for a reader than feeling let down by the end of a novel. Feeling that everything was one big anti-climax. Even when the anti-climax is intentional and you know that, it can still feel weird…. I think “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is the funniest movie ever made, but the end still shocks me every time I watch it. And that ending does fit the movie in its way.
- Avoiding the dreaded “plot hole.” I’m always terrified to read through a first draft. I have the basics of my story down, and I’m terrified I’ll make some realization that my characters are choosing are doing B when A is a much more obvious and even simpler solution. OOPS. Even worse, as a fantasy writer I worry that my magic system won’t hold up somehow…. That in writing magic I will have violated the rules I created, and that error is critical for the plot to continue as I need it to.
I realize this post is shorter than my posts have been lately…. moving to posting only twice a week, rather than daily, has allowed me to devote more time and energy into developing each post as it comes.
This post is meant to be a “list post,” to introduce the theme I’ll be developing later on, and I didn’t want to have too much overlap between the intro and what I plan to say later about each of the entries in its turn.
Basically, I haven’t exhausted this subject, so I hope you’ll come back throughout the next two weeks to continue the discussion and share your own experiences!
In your mind, what is the toughest thing about plotting? What bugs you in a book that gets plotting wrong? Is there something you hate that I’ve overlooked? Please let me know: we can definitely add it to the conversation!
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