start to write, we often don’t think about what we’re doing. We pour
our stories on to a page and hope for the best. We add characters, viewpoints,
settings, and backstory, thinking that it will make sense to everybody because
it makes sense to us.
best way to begin is to stick to one plot and one sub-plot in your
first books. Use these as practice runs to help you concentrate on
storytelling. This will encourage you to focus on creating nuanced, powerful characters who
live in their own extraordinary worlds, even if that world is one room. These
characters must overcome obstacles in pursuit of a goal.
This forces you to
consider if you have a strong enough story or if you just have an idea
for a story.
Lots of sub-plots may fill up pages, but, if they are weakly constructed, they won’t
make any of the story lines stronger. Every sub-plot
should have a character who
pursues his or her own story goal, encounters conflict, and reaches a positive
or negative resolution. When you consider this, you begin to understand how
complicated these stories within stories can become.
Questions That Will Show You If Your Story Is Cleverly Layered Or Clearly Over-Laden
Explain your story to five strangers. It is better if these
people are not writers or even regular readers. If you confuse them, or worse,
yourself, you have a problem. Once you have told your story, ask them to tell
you what they think you mean - in their own words. If they can’t, or if you
hear something you don’t recognise, you have too many plots.
you tell a sub-plot as a stand-alone story? If you can, you should probably do it. Sub-plots
are there to support your main plot. They have three functions: (1) They are there
to show a different perspective of the central conflict, (2) They test your
protagonist's motivations and abilities to achieve the story goal, and (3) They show
different aspects of the protagonist’s personality. [Read 6
Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story] If your sub-plot does not do this,
or does much more than this, it deserves to be removed or written as a separate book.
your protagonist changed?
A primary function of plot is to force the protagonist to change on the way to
achieving a physical story goal. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure] This internal change occurs when they recognise
their strengths and overcome inner demons to achieve this goal. If your
character has not changed, it means that you’ve cluttered the story with noise
instead of meaning.
many characters matter to your main plot? If you have more than four, you have a problem.
Remember that each of these four characters is a possible viewpoint character
and looking at a story from more than four perspectives in one book is crazy. [Read The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters]This does not mean that there won’t be other characters; it simply means that
you need to give prime time to a few characters who are crucial to the story.
your supporting characters have their own sub-plots? You know the answer should be no.
If you love the character this much, consider writing a novel about him or her.
your book filled with events that do not move your protagonist towards the story
including conflict for conflict’s sake. If events happen that spin the story
and the characters in many different, unrelated directions, you will struggle
to keep a reader’s attention. It takes a skilled storyteller to keep this
going. Long, complicated books are published by authors who already have an
established track record, for example, one of George R.R. Martin’s first books,
Dying of the Light is only 288 pages
long, and Stephen King’s Carrie,
published in 1974, is only 199 pages long. [Read Word
Counts - How Long Should Your Novel Be?]
you write a one-page
synopsis for your story? If you can’t, you have over-plotted. This synopsis
must be about your protagonist’s journey, from the inciting moment, creating a
believable story goal, putting a worthy antagonist and obstacles in place, to
the end where the story goal is reached. How you deal with this ending –
negatively or positively – is your choice. [Read How To
Write A One-Page Synopsis]
Remember you can tell a story any way you want to, but it may make your life easier if
you accept that too many plots can spoil a book. Why not see if you can plot a great book with one plot and one sub-plot before you embark on a potentially messy marathon?
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.
© Amanda Patterson
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