Showing posts with label plots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label plots. Show all posts

Jul 17, 2017

Here's What I Don't Get

I've been seeing ads on my Facebook feed lately that claim to help you generate plots for your novels. I guess my question would be "If you haven't got a plot, why do you want to write a novel?"

A novel needs a plot, a reason to exist. As a reader I get tired of  some "literary" novels that tell a lot about how a person feels and how he got that way without the person ever doing anything interesting. Many books that are hailed by critics as "stunning" and "evocative" fail to hold my attention because nothing happens.

Even a plot where things happen will disappoint me if those things are unbelievable or disappointing. A main character who kills had better have a reaaaaaalllly good reason for it. And both the murder and the resulting events must be logical.

Here are some examples that disappointed me, despite the author's skill with words. I fully admit I'm in the minority here, because all of these were successful books; some even got awards.

I recently read a book (well, I skipped to the end after a while) in which the murder of a woman was investigated by her husband (a cop) and her brother (an ex-cop). No person in authority in the police department had a problem with that. Yeah, right.

A book that got all kinds of praise from critics (because of that "evocative" writing) had as the murder scenario a situation where the killer could not have been certain his intended victim would be the one to approach the booby-trapped item. There were dozens of people present and any one of them was every bit as likely to be killed. Of course he was lucky and got the right person!

Another book touted as a "wonderful debut novel" had a plot that was great. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through--until the defeat of the villain depended on her decision, deep in the jungle and after days of chasing the protagonist and finally capturing her in a remote village, to put on some makeup. Almost as bad as the North Pole villain who, with the authorities closing in, decided to rape the protag on the open surface of a glacier at twenty degrees F, because "I've got you now, my pretty, and I intend to have my way with you!" (Can you say "Junior high boy's midnight fantasy"?)

Do these people have beta readers? Do the beta readers not say, "Um, you lost me when the guy hung his pants on the icicle"?

Conclusion: I'm pretty much against buying a plot, but then again, there are times when an author might be better off with a purchased plot than that crazy one he spun in his/her head.

Oct 5, 2015

Plain Talk For Writers: A Sense of Place

No, I'm not talking about book settings, though they're important and wonderful when done well.

I'm talking about YOUR place in the world of writing.

If you're published, you probably already have an idea of where you fit, and it probably bothers you a little that it isn't where you'd like to be or where you thought you'd be. If you're not yet published, you should spend some time thinking about where you will fit in once you show your work to the world.

Before publication, many writers have an inflated idea of the importance of their work. I'm approached all the time at book signings by people who claim they have the next bestseller in mind or in progress. The fact that they tell me about it is a hint that they don't know the process at all. There's hope in their eyes, a fantasy scenario where I grab them by the arm and say, "Wow! I need to tell my agent right away about your completely awesome idea." Well, I won't. In the first place, I fired my agent, and in the second place, I've heard it before. Really.


Honestly, 99% of books, including my own, are not that original. Most of us take a theme that's well known (In mystery it's usually the search for justice), find some characters we like, and work out a story. However, the number of variations on any theme is limited. For example, I'm aware of three best-selling authors right now who have a new book where the protagonist has amnesia. I bought two of them, and I had to quit reading one until I finish the other, because I kept getting them mixed up in my head. Amnesia as a theme in mysteries comes in waves--as do other themes, alcoholic protagonists, divorced sleuths with children at risk, cops with bosses who hate them, etc. Apparently it's been long enough since writers did amnesiacs as protags that we can use it again.

What's your place in the writing world? Chances are your plot isn't original (Nor are those of most best-selling authors). Chances are the people in your book are re-hashes of stereotypical characters readers have seen before, probably many times. That's okay, as long as you recognize it. The most honest thing a writer can do is accept that she isn't doing anything groundbreaking. Once we accept that truth, we won't expect to shoot to the top of the ranks like Nike rising from the sea.

If you're lucky, you write something entertaining enough that a portion of the population will read it. Then you build on that, so they learn to come back to you for the kind of story they like. If you're even more lucky, a few of them will say nice things about it to other readers (Most don't. They just reach for the next book on their TBR pile).

That's your place, and when you understand it, you'll stop wondering why awards aren't lining your office wall and movie producers aren't knocking on your door. You'll be happy brightening the corner where you are.


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