The other day, I met with my critique partner. Although he had some good things to say, there was one very glaringly epic fail with my draft: I had completely failed to elucidate my plot. Ugh.
Normally, this happens because the person in question doesn’t have a clear plot in mind. Perhaps they didn’t outline beforehand or the story took an unexpected turn during the writing.
In my case though, I had left out some significant details. Without them, it was hard to catch the key part of the plot — that the hero and her enemies had been tossed across the known universe and now had to work together.
This got me thinking about what else can derail a perfectly good plot. Here are some of the plot pitfalls I came up with.
- Lack of Character Motivation
If your character doesn’t need or want anything, it’s hard to keep a plot going.
- False Suspense
This is the topic of a whole ‘nother post, but basically it involves building suspense where no suspense needs to be. It also obscures your plot.
- Lack of Significant Details
You’re plot might be there in a conceptual sense, but the reader can’t find/follow it.
What are some plot pitfalls you’ve seen? Let me know in the comments below.
Before we write that first draft, we’re all about ideas. We outline; we plan. We feel inspired by the moment.
During the first draft, we learn about our characters and their surprising ways and quirks. They deviate from our careful plot outlines in inspiring (or sometimes disturbing) ways. Your characters’ unexpected moments lead to an unexpected story.
And then you finish that first draft with a sigh of relief. It’s brilliant. It’s so much better than that drivel that won the [insert choice of award here]. You are an inspiring writer.
And then a day or week or month later, you read your draft again. And you discover that you have to revise. You’ve encountered the Dreaded Revisions.
Just like writing with an outline is often easier, writing a revision with a plan is definitely the way to go. It’s useful to make a revised plot outline, to consider how you character does (or does not) grow. It helps to make notes where the pacing is weak and some scene or summary needs to be added or deleted. In short it helps to have a plan — or blueprint if you will.
For my students in my MLA class, I developed a convenient worksheet for them to fill out before doing their revisions. It’s not real in-depth, but it does make you think about various aspects before you dive back into your work. It can also help you decide whether you want to tackle each problem individually or by scene and which scenes need the most work (or need to be added or deleted).
Finally, this blueprint is a work in progress. I would love to get feedback on what you think would be great to have in a worksheet like this. Leave me a comment on what you think.
I’m a fan of the writing retreat. There’s just something about getting together with like minded people that really sparks my own personal creativity. Twice every year around a dozen fellow Austin authors band together and run out to the country for an informal writing orgy. There’s no internet, no spouses, no children and no excuses. We write. We tell stories, go on walks, and support one another. We write some more.
There is nothing comparable.
So, I was very excited when the Brazos Valley SCBWI (the one in Bryan/College Station) asked me to participate in their writing retreat. It’s a very cool idea: a bunch of authors get together to work, write, and critique one another. The group would be broken into a bunch of critique groups that would meet a couple of times over the weekend, led by a publishing professional moderator. I am one of those moderators.
If you are going to be in Texas November 15-17, I encourage you to consider joining us on this retreat. It’ll be a great opportunity to network with professionals and other like-minded individuals as well as get a ton of writing accomplished. And in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, what better time could there be to abandon the real world for a weekend of writing?
The group has extended registration through October 20. If you are interested, check out their webpage for the event.
Will I see you there?