Unburying the Plot

Unburying the Plot

Plot is the main chain-reaction (causal) series of events that create the core of a story. It can be driven by characters, or driven by action. However, unfocused writing can undercut even the strongest plot. Here are ways to help your plot shine.

*Don’t let voice thwart your plot.

A lot of times, people fall in love with pretty sentences. That’s good, I do, too. But, sometimes people only have pretty sentences: they don’t have anything HAPPENING. They can drag a simple sentence into paragraphs describing someone learning how to swim, focus on minutiae that are absolutely meaningless or don’t crop up later, and describe every single character that the reader will never encounter again.

*Use dialog if and only if it is pertinent to moving the story along or developing characters.

How have you been doing?” “Oh, quite fine.” “That is good. I have been doing well, too.” “What a wonderful day. But I need to get back to my shopping. Have a wonderful day.”

Did you skim?

What have you gained? More importantly, what have your readers gained?

Note that dialogue is a powerful tool and can set a tone. If you show a character as being proper and cordial when he’s usually not, that simple dialog shows us that he’s respectful/mindful of certain people, he likes/fears the person he’s talking to, or he’s being fake.

*Find out what’s important to your story, and delete anything else that doesn’t matter.

I’m not saying don’t give your characters history or quirks. I’m saying, don’t focus so much on the history and quirks that you’ve got little (word count) room for plot. Don’t take five paragraphs to describe a weeping willow if that weeping willow never comes into play later. Use one paragraph. A strong image.

*Decide what happens, and make it powerful or significant.

Usually, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an ending. So, there should be five things happening. 1. The beginning. 2. The event that takes us from the beginning to the middle. 3. The middle. 4. The event that takes us from the middle to the end. 5. The end. Plug in what you want to happen for these five things, and then throw in a twist or two.

If you tell a story about a girl who goes to class; comes home; eats and sleeps, sure, that’s a story. But it’s boring not as engaging as it could be.

Now, have her set off for class (beginning). But, on the way there, these strange men try but fail to kidnap her (event to bring us to the middle). Realizing they’d followed her to class, she sets up a series of boobie traps (middle). Two of the guys are captured, and she tortures them for information (event to bring us to the end). After finding out they mistook her for someone they’re supposed to find and drag home, she eats and sighs at the long day (end). Plot twist: she offs them first, or, despite recognizing their target as her arch nemesis, she helps nemesis escape, or, she helps them find their target plot twist part two: even though their target is her best friend.

*Subplots are fine things in moderation.

What else happens on an individual level? The two MCs are fighting alongside each other in an epic space opera, but does MC 1 secretly hate MC 2, and plan a coup d’etat?

Subplots are fine things in moderation, but if everyone is working on something diabolical, and you’re trying to keep the word count around 80k, then the main plot will most likely suffer. Your focus will be on all of these little subplots.

However, IF your plot is all of these subplots, then pull it off well. It’ll be hard, but narratives where “everyone’s story intertwines” do exist (mosaic or ensemble casts, for example). It works if you know how to do it. And the only way to learn how is by practice in writing, reading and critiquing this style.

*Don’t sacrifice character development for a strong action sequence.

It’s nice to have a little bit of both. But, sometimes characters stay one dimensional because the writer focuses on the action or rushes the story along instead of taking a moment to introduce readers to the people who matter.

Note that a story CAN be strong, even with a simple plot. Or one with no sideplots (short stories, for example). It’s all about what the writer wishes to depict, and what the reader enjoys as entertainment.

In essence, strong plots can be buried under poor, verbose or unintentional writing. Figure out the chain reaction of events (whether internal or external) is the bones. Now add the meat, the fat and a sprinkle of salt. Quite importantly, whatever your characters do and say, let it be purposeful.

This is NOT a complete list of how to unbury a plot, but it should get you off to a good start. Happy writing!