Mistakes that Murder Stories
Sit through enough critique sessions with a group of writers and you’ll soon see that we all make the same mistakes. Eventually.
But here’s the rub…
It’s always easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s story. In fact, it’s the mistakes that jump out at us in someone else’s work that we are most prone to make ourselves. I should know. Been there. Done that. And went back … more than once. And I’m not talking about misplaced commas, either. These mistakes can literally murder a story. Exposing these hooligans for what they are–fiction fatalities–is the only way to stop them.
Today’s smack down is with my own worst offender … The Serial Plot Killer.
When More Isn’t Better…
The old adage that “more is better” doesn’t work so well with fiction. The Serial Plot Killer is proof of that. Multiple main plots competing for the attention of the reader ends up killing the overall story. This happens when each plot is strong enough to be its own solid story, and the results is like a yelling match: “Follow me! Follow me! Follow me!”
No way is this kind of “more” better. It’s just more confusing. Readers won’t be able to figure out who or what to care about. Then you lose them.
An example of a personal plot faux pas was when I pitched a logline to Blake Snyder (in one of his Beat Sheet Workshops), and Blake just shook his head. I was bewildered by his negative reaction until he explained, “It’s Turner & Hooch or Miss Congeniality. You can’t have both.” He was right too. I was trying to tell two stories at once. I wasn’t the only one in that class who made that mistake either. A fellow sitting next to me admitted to adding his extra plot during revision, because he thought it would make his story more interesting. I’ve done that one too. In fact, it’s what I’m fixing in this revision of my current work in progress (WIP), hence this post.
This Fiction Fatality is hard for me to shake, because it dazzles and promises to make the story sparkle like the Emerald City. This is especially true during a second or third revision, when I’m way too familiar with the story. It’s easy to think that a new plot idea will be just the zing the story needs to make it bright shiny again. It might … but watch out. It’s more likely to be the Serial Plot Killer ninja-ing its way into the story to ensure it meets a murderous end.
This is why I feel critiques and beta reads are vitally important. They’ll expose the Serial Plot Killer for what it truly is … fatal confusion.
What story problems keep ninja-ing your writing?
You might be surprised at how many of us encounter the same problems!
My big problem for the longest time was the age old question of who is acting, who is making the choices. It used to be everyone but the main characters. That, of course, led to boring, listless stories. I think I’ve mostly conquered that after figuring out that was the problem. Now, when I build my stories, I think in terms of choices, and how the MC(s) are acting and reacting throughout the story. But man, that was a hard one to break at first.
Elizabeth Fais said:
I have had that problem too. It still crops up in the first draft phase of some stories, but I’ve learned to recognize and fix it sooner. The MC has to act and drive the story forward. Sounds simple. But you’re right, it was hard to break at first. 😉
Ellen Gregory said:
Oh I have so many ninja attacks, I couldn’t list them all! But one is possibly MCs who react rather than act… I’m always focused on this now:-)
Elizabeth Fais said:
*raises hand* Me too. I would let things happen to the MC rather than having the MC act and move the story forward. In a way, that came from trying to protect the MC. But that goes nowhere fast. I’ve read well published authors who have made this mistake in their (published) stories, and I those are the books I didn’t finish. This problem can creep into some of my first drafts, but I’ve learned to recognized it quicker than before and launch a counter-ninja attack.