Have you ever read a book or someone’s manuscript where lots of exciting stuff happens, but the book just sucks?
You know, the one where you roll your eyes because the plot went too far, but hey, you don’t even care. Because the book is that bad.
I’ve read a few rough drafts like that. (Not from my current CPs, thank heavens.) It has me itching to help the poor souls who wrote them, but usually I back away.
Why? You may ask. I am, after all, a no-shit sort of person. Well… As honest a critter as I may be, I draw the line at things that requires me to mark out the same problem through the entire manuscript. After all, more often or not, writers just stare incredulously and then disregard all my hard work.
Still, I want to help the new kids out. In the interest of doing so, I thought I’d do a short list.
1) Cause and effect.
This is one serious rookie error. In fact, it’s the one that got me thinking about this subject in the first place. You’d think that putting lots of exciting events into your story makes it exciting. Eh… Not necessarily.
It’s all very good and well if stuff happens to your characters, but what causes them? If all of your interesting events are coming from seemingly out of the blue (even if it’s from some off-stage villain pulling the strings), you have a problem.
Rule of thumb: Events must at least partially be from character decisions and actions. Those that aren’t had better be the basis of an ENTIRE plot line. Think something happening out of the blue in the beginning. What does the character do because of it?
2) Blah blah blah… blah blah.
Ever read something major happening to a character and… well… you just don’t care? It’s pretty annoying.
Oh wow. This guy’s whole family is going to get wiped out.
And then they’re going to steal his million dollar fluffy bunny.
No matter how high you make the stakes, people aren’t going to care. In fact, stakes aren’t raised at all unless a reader becomes personally interested in how things turn out for a character.
Whether the characters are likable or not, make them awesome. Make their emotions visceral. Make their fears real. Set the reader up to fall with the main character. Only then will a reader live into the story enough to care.
3) Uhm… this doesn’t fit.
Sometimes, stories don’t fit into their formats. Epic tales are squeezed into novellas. Novels are written where a drabble would have sufficed.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.
Some stories just aren’t big enough for 100+ thousand words. Others aren’t small enough for 40,000. So we readers are subjected to rambling to fill pages or unsatisfactory, stories. Usually with endings suddenly slamming down out of nowhere. As if someone had torn out entire pages and tacked an ending on.
Don’t start writing a novel. Start writing a story. Don’t stop before or after it’s done. If you’ve already written it, take out what isn’t your story and/or put in what’s missing. It really is that simple.
Yes, these problems can seem daunting, but once you spot the issues in your plot, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to fix them than you thought. Don’t be scared of working on your own stories. They’re yours to improve, after all.
So, veteran novelists, how do you solve the above issues? Any other reasons why a plot might suck?