Do you make these 5 plotting mistakes?
This is cross-posted in the Build a Strong Plot, 8-post series.
Are you too nice to your characters?
Low tension. Give characters large, overwhelming obstacles to overcome. Of course, you love this dear fellow you created and like any good parent, you want only the best for him. But if you want readers to read and care about Fella, you’d better give him an interesting problem.
Do you start one story, but finish a different?
Rambling story. If you story starts with a character wanting to make the basketball varsity team, then you must answer the question at some point: does s/he make the team? Yes, there is the idea that some plots spin off into a different direction at about the midpoint of the story. This is the idea that what a character wants isn’t what a character needs. When the character fails to make the team, then s/he turns instead to photography.
In this case, the story question is really larger: can a character learn to accept his own interests, rather than be ruled by others’ opinions? (Or some variation of this.) Learn to phrase your story question is larger terms, so that you can provide a twist in the middle and still keep telling the same story.
Example: “The Lion King” starts with the question of what Simba will do when his evil uncle takes over the pride. For part of the story, Simba hides and goes after the good feelings, the good life. But the story question is larger: how can Simba take his father’s place? At first, the answer is to avoid the question entirely by banishing himself to a happy place; but as Simba grows up, he realizes he must go back to the pride and defeat his uncle.
Do you connect the dots?
Disconnected narrative. Can you point to a series of scenes in which the character’s emotional arc changes slowly? Can you point to a series of scenes in which the main action of the story progresses through conflict-failures toward the last major confrontation? Have you built in the possibility of success at the end? (Or failure, if you’re writing a tragedy?) Can you physically put your finger on these places?
I’m emphasizing pointing and putting your fingers on these scenes, because too often these scenes are still in our heads! The dots aren’t connecting because you didn’t write the connection, you only made the connection in your head. Make sure these are on paper.
Is every action/reaction appropriate for the audience, genre, and story you’re writing?
Inappropriate events. Check again and again, if the story events are right. Maybe this is too simple or too complex for your target audience. Maybe you’re writing a love story and you’re throwing in too many scary scenes and spilling over into horror. Keep reminding yourself of your reader.
OK. Some writers don’t like to do that. “I write for myself,” they say.
I’ll give you that on the first draft, where you’re just finding out what story you want to tell. But on the revisions, you do need to consider your audience – if you expect to sell your story.
Is your story predictable?
Boring! How can you use what an audience expects but turn it upside down? Before I start a new chapter, I often ask myself, what does the audience expect next. And I try not to give it to them. They expect a cat fight? Well, maybe I’ll give them a tiger/jaguar fight; our characters go to a circus and the big cats get loose from the cages. It’s still a cat fight, but not the house-cat fight they expected. I acknowledge, whenever I can what an audience expects, but then try to turn it around, twist it, serve it up in a different package, set it in a different place, etc. Change something! Do not be–
Well, give your reader a slight thrill, a chill. Be different. They’ll stick with you better. And when you’re plotting a story is the time to plan for this.
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