There’s no such thing as a perfectly plotted book. In any story, you’re bound to find plot holes, flawed character logic, and boring scenes. Plus, it’s just not possible to please every reader. When you’re constructing your plot, take some of that pressure off of yourself and focus on telling a story that makes you excited to share it with the world.
To create that confidence in your work, you can avoid these four common plotting pitfalls I’ve encountered as a developmental editor, reader, and writer.
If you’re a writer, you’re probably familiar with struggling to convey your ideas through words alone and screaming your creative aspirations into the void of an uncaring universe. Feelings like this are common enough to have colloquial terms within the writing community — and if you name something, you gain power over it.
Let’s take a look at some writer problems and how to handle them.
Writers must strike the right balance between rich details that will immerse readers in the story and excessive descriptions that will put the audience to sleep. Overwritten prose can weigh readers down with too much verbiage. Underwritten prose might not allow the reader to fully visualize and experience the story.
Most writers lean more one way than the other, but your style might vary depending on the type of information you’re trying to convey or your intentions for a particular project. You might tend to overwrite setting descriptions and underwrite dialogue, or vice versa. …
Music is memory. We all have songs that transport us back to a particular time and place — or a particular person. When I hear “Fireflies” by Owl City, a spark of freedom ignites in me as I imagine my sixteen-year-old self driving to school on a frosty, dark morning in my banged-up Ford Taurus, chasing the possibilities ahead of me like so many fireflies.
My life is mapped out in music notes. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses sends me to a muddy field near my middle school, where I’m trudging across with a baguette in hand, my best friend throwing back her strawberry-blonde hair in a laugh, both of us wearing baggy black T-shirts and no makeup. …
How would you take revenge against your greatest enemy? Or perhaps “enemy” is too strong a word, and it’s someone who’s just so annoying that you’d like to see them…disappear.
In one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous stories, “The Cask of Amontillado,” the author inhabits the mind of a monstrous man bent on vengeance. I’ve read this story many, many times, and I notice something new with each reading. You can listen to my narration of the story, or read a text version.
At the time of writing this story, Poe had a feud with fellow author Thomas Dunn English. English created a caricature of Poe as a drunkard in one of his novels, and in revenge, Poe modeled Fortunato after his enemy…and then buried him alive. As the saying goes, “Don’t piss off a writer. …
When I see someone’s nose stuck in a book, I get nosy myself. I squint and crane my neck, casting surreptitious glances across the restaurant or hallway because I just have to know what they’re reading (God forbid I actually strike up a conversation).
I don’t entirely understand what drives that curiosity. Perhaps it feels like knowing their reading tastes will give me insight into who they are — an odd sort of bond between two strangers. …
Third-person point of view feels like the default in the literary world. Many novels refer to main characters using the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they,” rather than the “I/me/my” of first-person narration.
Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of this perspective, along with some other concerns unique to this point of view (POV), including:
Whereas first person involves immersing yourself in one individual voice, third person allows for varying degrees of “narrative distance,” also known as “psychic distance” — that is, how close the reader is to the characters’ thoughts. …
Sometimes a scene needs a splash of hot sauce— just one ingredient to make it more thrilling or surprising, or even a little uncomfortable.
If a scene feels bland, you can add conflict to capture your readers’ attention. Conflict takes many forms, but it can be defined as anything that gets in the way of a character’s happiness or prevents them from achieving their goals. Here are four flavors you can try out.
The character makes a brave move, putting themselves in danger.
Having a wide vocabulary gives you more than just the smugness that comes from knowing “aglet” is the name for the tiny piece of plastic at the end of a shoelace. It’s about finding the right word — the one special word in a sentence — that will transmit an image or feeling directly into the reader’s mind.
For example, Daniel Wallace uses the word “carapace” in his novel Big Fish:
“He’s lived his whole life like a turtle, within an emotional carapace that makes for the perfect defense: there’s absolutely no way in.”
The turtle simile provides context clues: it must mean “hard outer shell.” An emotional carapace. The specificity gives the description more weight, more energy. …
“In order to be a writer, you really do have to have this balance of ego and extreme humility.” — Mindy McGinnis
Mindy McGinnis is the award-winning author of nine novels to date, including Not a Drop to Drink, The Female of the Species, and A Madness So Discreet. She also hosts the writing podcast and blog Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire.
I interviewed her about the ups and downs of being a full-time writer and distilled her wisdom into eight lessons that provide a glimpse into the world of authordom.
“I started writing when I was in college, and I wrote four novels before my fifth one was finally picked up by an agent and published, which was Not a Drop to Drink. It’s post-apocalyptic survival. I was trying for about ten years to get an agent. Now, that was on and off — it wasn’t constant querying. Maybe two/three-month breaks between feeling so dejected I couldn’t continue anymore. …