The Seven Deadly Sins for Novel Writing Part IV


Sin# 4: Plot Snafus

Your plot is the meat and direction of the novel. Even the most compelling characters lie flat on the page without something to do. For some, plotting comes as natural as breathing, and for others it seems like a mountainous task. Either way, plotting correctly is easier said than done. Here are some of the potential landmines waiting in the plotting department:

--Plot Holes

Logic, logic, logic. If there is one rule we must understand as writers, it is the art of following logic. Noticeable inconsistencies in the plot are gaping holes of doom to the novel.

Plot holes happen in different ways. A character can act illogically. A storyline can proceed in an unnatural way with no foreshadowing or set up. Key information or critical factors to the success or failure of the storyline are ignored. A plot hole is a missing piece of the puzzle that the reader can and does notice, and they will not love you for it.

Before you pronounce a book complete and send it out into the big bad world of publishing, read the book specifically for places where the logic doesn't add up, characters' choices and actions don't ring true or the obstacles and goals aren't realistic. This is where a critique group can really be a help, providing the critical eye and distance from the work that an author cannot always achieve on their own.

--Too many subplots

Poignant subplots add layers to the story and characters, but too many can ruin a plot. If readers have to work hard at keeping the characters and their story lines straight, there's too much going on. Maybe characters are vying for importance (sin # 3) or maybe the writer has so many great ideas they can't decide which subplots to include. The answer is not to include them all, but rather to be ruthless and judge each on its ability to enhance or contrast the MC's plight in the main plot. Never let the subplots cannibalize the plot or over-complicate the novel. If you suspect you have too much going on, narrow the focus and cut, cut, cut.

--Too few subplots

On the other side of the page is a book with little or no subplots to tug the reader in deeper. Subplots are a great way to add depth to the storyline and the characters, add complication to the main plot and also provide other needs/goals for the readers to root for as the book angles toward the climax and resolution.

Think of a book as a journey by boat down river. If the main plot line is working alone, the journey downstream will be swift and somewhat linear. The scope of experience is the rocking motion of the boat, the sky overhead and sightings of local flora and fauna from the railing. But if the boat pulls into the eddies once in a while to allow travellers to get off, pull off their socks to stroll along the banks and along pebbled beaches, the experience becomes textured and so much richer.

--Saggy middles

Middles are the bane of many writers. This is the time where the hero is tested, and then tested again. They struggle, they may fail, but they must rise again and ultimately emerge with the tools and confidence they need to take on the climax. Often middles sag because the writer is so busy showing the inner journey of the MC they forget that the outer journey must always SHOW STRONG FORWARD MOVEMENT.

Pacing can also suffer because the writer is repetitive in their tests and obstacles. A sharp eye is needed to keep the pacing on track. Conflict is they key to successful middles, and each test must add to the character's knowledge, experience and dedication to the task ahead. With middles, less is more. Make every scene earn the right to be part of your plot. If one doesn't work hard enough, pull out the chainsaw.

--Coincidences

Every writer should be very wary of this flaw, because it is directly tied to the reader's Suspension of Disbelief. SoD is the reader's decision to put aside disbelief and accept the novel's premise as being REAL until the book ends. The danger lies in the fact that the reader's SoD can only be pushed so far, and once they are carried over the line into disbelief, THERE IS NO RECOVERY. Worse, they may be so upset that they will not pick up another book by the author. Understanding SoD can not only save your book...it can save an author's career.

Coincidences should be avoided whenever possible.
Rarely do they need to be included in order for the writer to gather all the right elements to bring on the solution or resolution. Pay close attention to that word: RARELY. Strive to avoid coincidences, but if you must include one, make it small and seemingly insignificant. That's the only way to fly under the radar.

Sometimes writers use coincidences as a method of letting their hero catch a break. Again, make it small. If the hero goes to some one's place of business because they need something imperative from them and actually find them at work--that's catching a break. But when the Hero is vacationing half way across the world from his small town in Kansas and in walks his neighbor who just happens to be vacationing at the same time, at the same place, and happens to choose the same dive bar to have a drink at? Never in a million years will the reader believe this was 'happenstance.'

--Dropped Plot Lines

Loose ends are never good in a novel. If you feel a sub plot is important enough to earn a place in your book, see it through to the end. Dropped subplots leave your reader in limbo, wondering whatever happened to so and so, and did he ever find out about x? It is possible for a subplot to reach a milestone but not be fully resolved, but only if the book is being billed as one out of a series, and only if it still fulfills its role correctly in the current book.

Plotting snafus take time and energy to solve, but a compelling plot line is pure gold and worth striving for. Can you think of other snafus to be wary of?

25 comments:

ralfast said...

That's why I write lots of notes while I write, too keep myself on track, an even then sometimes mistakes slip in.

Rewrite!

Carmella Van Vleet said...

Great post! Very helpful. Thanks for sharing. :-)

emilymurdoch said...

Awesome post. I've been looking forward to it since I found your site and read your previous posts in the series.

You have a gift for explaining the novel mechanics in a way that a writer can take your lessons with them into their revisions.

*Thanks* for that, and for this series. So very helpful!

Em

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff! Thanks so much; may have to bookmark this post. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Good stuff here. I especially need to watch out for coincidences; I think it's an easy way out of a plot tangle but not a valid one.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm a pantser, trying to unravel the mysteries of plotting.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Kathy McIntosh said...

Good stuff. Particularly like your stand against coincidences. They can sour me on the whole book.
Another? Racing to the finish. True, things should speed up at the end, but I can tell when an author has either run out of time or reached maximum word length.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great overview! Thanks.

Deb Salisbury said...

I love your blog, but I particularly love this series of posts. Thanks!

Erica said...

Another fabulous post! Great stuff in this one. Plot's are difficult that's for sure. I would say make sure the motives of the characters are believable too. Not sure if that's plot related, but it was something I was having an issue with :o)

Can't wait to see the next sin!!

aaronarin said...

I like your post

Yunaleska said...

Uh-oh, I may be creating a big coincidence in my current wip. Guess I'll have to wait until my beta checks it out. Great post! Looking forward to the other parts.

Christina Farley said...

Well written and so many good points to remember. I needed to read this!

Mary Witzl said...

I winced at the part about too many subplots: that is absolutely my greatest Waterloo -- that and having the odd character inconsistency... If there are any people out there with not enough subplots, maybe we could get together and work something out? :)

Another Deadly Sin, as far as I'm concerned, is what I would call nicey-nice: everybody getting along, loving everybody else, treating them right, doing the best thing -- and no conflict in sight. Real life isn't like that (sadly); when a novel is, I feel like throwing it across the room.

Bish Denham said...

Good stuff! Another excellent post, worthy of further study and reading.

pjreece said...

What a challenge -- plot believability. My mantra is this: characters don't wander around the plot as if it was a game of Snakes & Ladders, no, the character IS the plot. Everything follows from the protagonist's attitude and point of view. She is responsible for all her punishment and reward. Comments?

Erin Cole said...

Excellent information. Thanks!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Great reminder about subplots taking over--if they're that strong, then they need a novel of their own.

Kara said...

Lots of great and important information. Thank you for sharing!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think I need to work on plot pacing. This is another fabulous post, Angela. I've begun printing them all and keeping a "Bookshelf Muse" writing folder! :-)

Angela said...

Ralfast, I'm the same way--loooots of notes!

Carmella, thanks for the visit!

Emily, so glad the series is helping you!

Karen, thanks for the bookmark!

Tricia, I agree, they do solve a plot tangle, but sometimes the price is the reader's believability.

Susan, I'm a bit of a pantser too!

Kathy, I agree--sprints to the finish are so disappointing!

Ronni and Deb--thanks!

Erica, character's motivations are very relevant!

Aaron, Yuna and Christina, thanks!

Mary, This is one thing I have to watch out for as well. I'm in the 'have too many ideas on how to weave subplots in' camp, and sometimes I go overboard.

Bish, thannks for your comment! I'm glad this helps.

PJ, I like your analogy. And yes I agree that the character is ultimately in charge of risk and reward. :-)

Erin, Conda and Kara, thank you so much!

Shannon, I'm blushing! Glad you're finding the series helpful. :-)

Tara McClendon said...

Great things to consider. My husband is great at catching plot holes. He likes to call them "times when I forget my own rules."

Marian said...

Great post. :)

You might also get away with a coincidence if the that makes things worse for the protagonist. It's a sign of weak plotting when the writer uses it to get out of a tight spot, but if it means the hero will have to think that much faster...

C. L. Mac Neil said...

I think I re-read this three times already-- plot gaps are something I struggle with and your comments on avoiding them were quite useful! Thanks!

Rae said...

I'm linking my boyfriend to this. He's convinced that the coincidence that made the plot of Cowboys & Aliens possible doesn't ruin the movie. I'm convinced it does.

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