Without a strong plotline your novel cannot reach it's full potential. A lack of structure, underdeveloped characters, and plot holes can all leave a reader feeling frustrated and in turn could lead to a bad review or worse, to abandonment of your story altogether. Here are 7 tips for ensuring your plot is where it needs to be before you publish.
1. You've created random subplots: Subplots can enhance your story in a myriad of ways. They can support character development, provide comic relief from an emotionally charged storyline, can provide a much-needed break in a fast-paced plot, and can help a reader understand the overall context of your story better. But not all subplot ideas are good ideas. Every subplot added into your book NEEDS to have a purpose. There's no such thing as a "random" subplot or one that does not further the overall plotline. While every element should serve to move your story forward, this is especially true for subplots, as they can easily distract or take away from the main plotline. An example comes from Anna Godbersen's Luxe series where Lina Broud has serious romantic feelings for William, a fellow servant, but then seemingly "forgets" all about this infatuation when new and more profitable suitors come along. This is a mistake since one of her primary motivators is never mentioned again.
2. You've fallen victim to information dumping: As writers, it's second nature to think that more words equals better quality. This is false. Instead, you should only use the words you need to get your point across. This also applies to story background and character details. While we may think our stories are infinitely exciting and that every carefully crafted detail is interesting and vital, this is also not the case. Thinking this way can lead to information dumping, the art of oversharing, and can leave readers feeling overwhelmed and bored. It slows down the pacing of your novel and can lead to excess pages without real purpose- a death sentence for an otherwise good story. If you know yourself to be particularly wordy, comb back through your draft and edit out the extra fluff. Not sure what's necessary or not? Ask yourself if what you wrote directly influences or reacts to major plot events. If the answer is no, then it's a good indicator that it doesn't need to be there.
3. You've neglected your characters: Recently I've heard more than one writer say that they hardly do any character development. While pantsing can lead to some great ideas, having no plan when it comes to characters and their emotional development can result in two-dimensional main characters and a supporting cast that falls flat. Without considering how your character will grow and change, you miss out on the opportunity to carry the emotions of your reader and drive them to continue reading. If readers can't connect with your characters, your book will not be a best-seller. Make sure that when you raise a problem, you allow your protagonist time to emotionally react and then process what has occurred. Without that natural lull after a big reveal or plot twist, your reader won't receive the understanding and connection they need to bond with them.
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4. You've been winging your plot structure: Similar to number three, winging your plot structure will only get you so far. While its good in the early phases to let ideas come naturally and to explore where they lead, there comes a time when you have to get serious. Figuring out how your protagonist gets from point A to point C and so on allows for consistency in the draft overall, particularly when it comes to bridging the middle to the ending. Without some type of order your work will be messy and it'll be more likely for plot holes to arise. It will also be more likely that you will forget things that bear further explanation.
5. Your draft is riddled with plot holes: This occurs when you write and don't keep track of the details. Often writers will get caught up in the excitement and forget certain pieces that needed to either be mentioned and laid to rest, or that needed following up on. These plot holes are gaps in the logical explanation of information, mismatched details, and general inconsistencies within the plot. While crucial for all stories, it is vital when writing Sci-Fi, which is often packed with scientific details that must make sense. Creating a new type of Sci-Fi weapon requires some explaining. It also requires that every time the weapon is used, it is used in the same way. The same goes for magic in Fantasy novels. By the laws of nature, magic can only be used in x amount of ways and any deviation from the rules automatically bears skepticism from readers.
6. You've let your plotline stunt your growth: This problem happens when writers are too rigid in their planning. When no pantsing is involved and you have a straightforward outline, sometimes the fun gets sucked right out of the draft and it shows. Making an outline is always helpful. Sticking to it, even when new and arguably better ideas arise, is not. If you've reached the middle of your draft and find you have writer's block or are bored with your own work, this may be the cause. A great way to overcome this is to go back to brainstorming. Ask yourself what all the possible outcomes of a situation could be and work backwards. Choose the ones that interest and surprise you the most. This will propel your story in a new direction, but chances are it'll be for the better.
7. You've forgotten the 5 W's: If you've gotten feedback telling you that certain parts of your story are unclear or confusing, it may be because you've forgotten the "who", "what", "where", "when", and "why". When these elements are unclear, it means that an important piece of the puzzle isn't getting through to the reader. Without one, things get confusing. When you're missing two or more, it becomes a story that people won't bother to continue reading. Consider the following: Who do events happen to? What events take place? Where do these circumstances occur? When do they take place? and why are they inevitable? Once you answer these questions go back and check your manuscript for consistency. Your reader should have a clear understanding of who your protagonist is, what obstacles they face, the consequences should they fail, and who stands in the way of their goal. They should also be able to answer where the story takes place, the time period, and why the situation has become so dire. Have doubts? Ask your beta readers these questions. If they can answer them, then you're on the right track. If not, ask for further clarification.
Are you in the plot outlining phase of your novel? Consider these 7 tips to ensure a successful draft.
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