Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Your Plot Drags? Fix It.

Authors don’t always realize their plot drags until they step back and take a fresh look. It’s always good to give your story a rest for a week or two, if you have time to spare, and then read with new eyes. The brilliant words can dull with time and that means authors need to dissect the plot, the language and techniques to bring the story to life and make it shine again .

In December of 2007, I discussed four technique problems that affect the quality of a novel: POV, pacing, dialogue and passive writing (show don’t tell). Here are a few more elements that deal with faltering plots to add to that list:

• Descriptions: Bringing a scene to life takes balance. Too much description can bog a novel, but too little loses some of the ways in which your reader can envision your story. Describing each pebble on the path is a bit too much, but describing how a path meanders into the woods weighted with tree limbs, their fingers reaching for the sun can add to your novel. First the language is vivid. Next it can set the tone. Using the phrase “fingers reaching for the sun” can add a sense of foreboding to a suspense novel as can the word weighted. It can also reflect the characters personal burdens, his despair and heavy-heartedness. Use description effectively by making it do more work for you.

• Language and Grammar: Although grammar and punctuation are important elements, especially in narration, remember that even narration comes from a POV character. We are looking at the scene through a character’s eyes. Keep the vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone reflecting the POV character. Use the career lingo and regional vocabulary to make the language real for a specific character. Don’t forget we often speak in partial sentences. We don’t always respond to a question with an answer. Sometimes we restate part of the question: “Hit by a car?” or we respond to requests with: “You want me to what?” Listen to conversations and make your dialogue real. Short sentences add excitement or urgency. Longer ones are more thought-provoking or romantic. Plots bog when dialogue becomes chitchat or when the language is stilted.

• Slow Action Scenes: Though you are trying to make an action scene exciting, learn when to present move by move detail and when to tighten your descriptions. As I said that short sentences in dialogue add excitement, the same happens with description. Joe saw it coming. The chair hurled past. He ducked his head and hit the floor. These three sentences create an image of excitement and action. The same idea can lessen the excitement with too much description. Joe watched the man enter the room, his eyes nailing Joe to the spot. With a quick move, the stranger grasped the chair, raised it over his head and flung it toward him. As he watched it sweep past, Joe ducked and threw himself on the floor behind the sofa. See the difference? Sometimes the readers feels more emotion from fewer words that create more tension and excitement.

• Missing Information: Authors are required to do research for most every book, and often gather far more details and ideas than they can use. Sometimes in trying to be discriminating by choosing only what seems the most important details or facts, the author ends up with the feeling that something is missing. Before adding more information, have a second party read that scene or chapters where the problem seems to occur and decide what will fill in the blanks. If the missing pieces are historical, do more research or try for a reasonable guess, and you can always add a line in your letter to the reader—that you’ve taken an author’s prerogative to make historical changes or additions. If the knowledge on any other topic is not readily available,(for example whether or not a certain code can be deciphered by a computer program and how long it would take), you can use your imagination. If you watch TV, you’ll see many police shows use tests and equipment that stretch the truth. Again it’s screenwriter’s prerogative. If you acknowledge the deception, readers will be less likely to write long scathing letters to tell you how stupid you are.

• Giving Your Book A Classic Plot: When your plot seems to be unraveling, think of other novels you’ve read even childhood tales and fairy tales. Notice the classic story structure and review your novel to make sure you’ve provided good motivation, a strong personal goal that makes a difference in the life of the main character, and a series of growing conflicts with powerful opposition. Opposition can be a person, a group, a belief or a deep-seeded fear. Then make sure you provide a satisfying ending that gives a reader pleasure. If you do this, you can stop worrying. If you’ve missed one of these important story elements, revise your plot to make it more dynamic.

These additional solutions can help your novel to be saleable and a great read.

8 comments:

Sarah Allen said...

Fantastic tips :) Very good reminder when I'm in the middle of the first draft.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Sara York said...

Great tips. I'm in the middle of my first draft right now and trying not to let it sag.

Marji Laine said...

Great tips! I'm especially going to take your advice about shortening sentences during action. I'm revising through a scene of that type today. Thanks for the pointers

Patricia said...

Ahhh, if we could all remember all the tips and dos and don'ts. I think your suggestion to let someone read our problem areas is spot-on.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi All - Thanks so much for your comments and support. As I've said, hearing your positive comments makes the time it takes to write these articles worthwhile.

Spread the word to writer friends and people on your social networks that this info is available here. The more the merrier. : )

Jillian said...

Another great article for my "Gail" notebook! Thanks so much, Gail!

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