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Plot or Plod Part 6: Answering Some Plot Questions

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Can a book have more than one plot?

Yes. This is more than just adding a subplot to your main plot—this is what is typically called crossing genres. This is where new genres come from, for example Romantic Suspense (“Love Story” plot + “Mystery-to-Answer” or “Thwart the Destruction . . .” plot). It’s taking elements from more than one master plot to structure your story.

But how do you know if something is a plot or a subplot?

General rule of thumb is that if something is a subplot, you could cut it out completely and it would not unravel your story. It might flatten it, might diminish its effectiveness, but you’d still have a story there. If it’s a mixed-plot or cross-genre story, such as a romantic suspense, removing either the romance element or the suspense element completely unhinges the plot.

How do I make sure I’m not shortchanging one of the plot elements?

This is where the writer’s left-brain needs to kick in. If you enjoy graphs like the ones I did in the first couple of posts in this series, chart your plotlines. Use a different color for each one so that you can see where it is in each chapter of your book. If you have a chapter that’s all suspense and not a lot of romance, the suspense line would spike while the romance line would stay relatively flat. (And Erica, I can already hear you asking me to give an example of this. I can—but it may take some time.) Or you can do this with your scene cards/storyboards. Color code them according to whether they’re romance or suspense or both so that you can see if you’ve got too much of one or the other, or if there aren’t enough scenes where you have both going on.

Is it a good idea to mix plots or make up my own genre?

Mixing plots/crossing genres is one of the ways that you can make your book stand out from the rest of the manuscripts on the slush pile. Creating your own niche, your own genre, could be just the edge you need in the extremely competitive publishing industry. Everywhere you go—editors’/publishers’/agents’ blogs, conferences, etc.—everyone says that the Chick Lit genre is dead. (I personally thought it was D.O.A., but that’s just me.) But smart Chick Lit writers have taken their passion for the genre and added twists—instead of single, socialite New Yorkers looking for a sugar daddy, we get demon-fighting suburban-mom chicks (Carpe Demon), Asian-American chicks (Sushi for One?), missionary chicks (Everything’s Coming Up Josey), and Regency chicks (All the Tea in China). Granted, most of these are not mixed plot, but I hope you’re catching my point. Taking a tried-and-true plot and adding a twist to it is one of the best ways to get noticed—and to start building your brand.

Are there any plots that are over-done? that editors won’t look at?

Look at the books on your shelves and pick out about ten in the same genre. I’ll choose romance, because that’s what I have the most of. Do all of them follow the standard romance storyline (they meet, they fall in love, they’re torn apart, something climactic brings them back together, they live happily ever after)? For mine, yes. So why do I have ten books when they all have the same plot? Because while they may all have the same basic plot structure, each author has crafted her own take on that structure to create a unique plot. Dee Henderson’s O’Malley Series romances are different from Catherine Palmer’s Finder’s Keepers which is different from Susie Warren’s Deep Haven trilogy which are totally different from Linda Windsor’s Along Came Jones. Dee Henderson gives us a whodunnit/suspense plot to go along with the romances. She also adds the twist to the plot that each of the main characters is involved in some kind of law enforcement or rescue profession. Catherine Palmer’s Finders Keepers has as one of its twists that the heroine has a young son whom she adopted from Romania, and another twist that the hero must discover secrets about his family’s past and his own heritage. Susie Warren’s Deep Haven series focuses on a small resort town in Minnesota—and each of the three books has a different twist to the story, whether it’s the opening of a small bookstore, a celebrity hiding his identity, or the hero hiding his mentally challenged brother from the heroine. And in Along Came Jones, the heroine has gotten caught up in a situation not of her choosing which necessitates her hiding out at the hero’s ranch in Montana—also a situation not of her choosing.

Plots that are overdone in the CBA (again, speaking Romance genre here) are: Pastor falls in love with Church Member; prairie romance where one or both of the characters lose a spouse and must marry/join their families to make a go of it—and then fall in love with each other; the Cinderella story—rich man falls in love with poor girl and takes her away from all her troubles; down-on-his-luck aristocrat must marry for money, chooses good Christian girl who “saves” him as he falls in love with her; anything where the main source of conflict between the hero and heroine is that one of them is not a Christian (“salvation romances”).

Aren’t Plot and Genre really the same thing?

Not really. Knowing what genre you want to write in can help you by giving you a basic structure for your plot (with the exception of genres such as literary or women’s fiction, which could really go anywhere) and with how to market it afterward. But genre is just the foundation. Your plot encompasses the unique characters, conflicts, setting, and ebb-and-flow of your story. Let the genre be your guide, your compass, but don’t let it hem you in or constrict you in any way. If someone asked me, “What’s the plot of your story?” I wouldn’t answer, “It’s a romance novel.” I would say, “It’s a romance in which the wedding-planner heroine fears she’s falling in love with a client, only to discover he isn’t really who he says he is.”

What are some other questions you have about plot?

One Comment
  1. Tuesday, October 30, 2007 6:15 pm

    Yay for visuals! You know me so well!


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