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Plot or Plod: Wrap-up

Thursday, November 1, 2007

As a follow-up to my post on plot twists yesterday, today, there’s a wonderful article up on Novel Journey by one of my former crit partners, Cindy Woodsmall, where she breaks down what could have been cliche about her Amish novel and shows how she added twists in her plot to make it unique.

Obviously, I haven’t been able to cover every single aspect of plotting here. But I hope that I’ve given everyone enough food for thought to carry you into NaNoWriMo, which starts today. I’m going to try to keep up with my word count there, but will also be keeping up with it on my Writing Update page here.


So what are my last few words on plot?

Study your favorite books/movies and try to create a plot-line graph for them. Read the how-to books, but study the masters. Concentrate more on how your favorite authors created their plots. Look for the structure and twists in your favorite novels/movies.

If you feel like your plot has stalled out and your writing is going nowhere, take a step back. Instead of trying to write through it, spend some time just toying with your characters. Throw everything you can think of at your characters. Are your hero’s reactions coming across as cliche or stereotyped? Stop thinking of him as your hero. What would he do if he were the bad-guy? What if, instead of trying to save the world for good, pure motives, he were a mercinary only out to make a dollar (or a few million)? Put him in a Daniel Webster–type situation. How would your hero react if someone (a “devil”?) came to him and offered him everything he could possibly dream of, if only he compromised on one little thing? Or, put him in Job’s situation: take everything away from him . . . and then put him in physical pain. Would that change him?

Check and re-check your characters’ goals and internal motivations. Are the goals both specific and universal enough? Will the reader care if the character achieves the goal (universal), and will the reader understand why the goal is important to the character (specific)?

Is there enough/too much conflict? Do you have enough lulls/quiet times to give the reader a break, but not so many that they put the book down and forget to come back to it because there isn’t enough tension? Do you end each chapter with a hook? I don’t mean a cliffhanger, but just a hint of what’s to come so that the reader wants to turn the page to the next chapter and keep reading. Is there too much conflict? Is it becoming melodramatic because you keep pouring conflict down onto the characters at every turn?

Is there movement in your story? No matter if it’s a physical or emotional journey, something must move from Point A to Point Z (or even Point M). And, even if it’s a physical journey, the character must undergo an internal change—must learn something, become a better person, fall in love, forgive someone, or learn something important about him/herself. No one wants to read about perfect characters (no need for change) or stunted characters (can’t/don’t change).

Do all of your plot points connect with the characters’ goals and motivations? Does everything that happens to the characters have an effect on the outcome of the story? Does each plot point lead up to creating the climax? Is there anything you’ve thrown at your characters that, while it may be interesting, doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual direction/climax of the story?

But the absolute most important question I can ask by way of wrap-up is: ARE YOU ACTUALLY WRITING? If you don’t apply tush to seat and fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper), it doesn’t really matter if you have the most amazing plot in the world. Because no one’s ever going to see it. That’s how people who’ve written what to us seem like mediocre stories get published. Because people who’ve thought up amazing plots, great characters, and conflicts no one’s ever seen before aren’t actually writing!

So, think about these questions, but don’t dwell on them. Just go write!

  1. Thursday, November 1, 2007 11:26 am

    LOL, tush to seat. Yes, therein lies the key (Lay, lie?) Hope you do great with NANO! Wish I were joining y’all. Sounds like so much fun=)


  2. Thursday, November 1, 2007 4:54 pm

    Black on White, Black on White…

    Writing is the key, isn’t it?

    We’ll have to plan a NaNo for next year with all three of us busting our tushes!


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