WHY DOESN’T MY PLOT WORK?
by BRUCE HALE and MICHAEL STEARNS
Getting perspective on your own writing is tougher than two-year-old Halloween caramels. You squint at the story, mull it over, and suspect something isn’t working, but it’s hard to say what, exactly.
At a recent conference, my friend and former editor, Michael Stearns, offered up one of the best cures I’ve seen for this problem. His series of diagnostic questions can help you turn your plot from wimpy to wicked-strong.
Reprinted with his permission, here’s an excerpt from Michael’s list of questions, together with my explanations.
1. Do you have something pulling the character forward?
Every character needs a powerful goal or desire. Make sure it’s compelling enough to believably motivate them.
2. Do you have something pushing the character from behind?
Add a meddlesome mom, a pursuing villain, an obnoxious rival — someone who applies pressure.
3. Have you remembered clocks?
This refers to a deadline that must be met, or else. Think of Marty McFly in Back to the Future, who must drive his time machine
past the clock tower at the right moment, or remain stuck in the past.
4. Have you made the character lie — to others and to us?
Everybody lies. And whether it’s a big lie or a little one, the truth wants to come out. This energy helps invigorate your plot.
5. Do you know your character’s motives inside and out?
Often, plots bog down when you lose sight of why your hero wants to do something. Unmotivated action rings false.
6. Does all the above apply to even minor characters?
The villain, the best friend, even the bit players have a reason for doing what they do. And when you get clear on that reason, their actions will be make more sense.
7. Have you buried the ends of chapters?
Don’t immediately resolve the issue or question that gets raised near the chapter’s end. Resolve it in the next chapter — or better yet, the chapter after that. Your readers will curse you while they keep on reading.
8. Have you been as mean as possible to your characters?
We’re talking about Job mean, Sophie’s Choice mean, evil-punk-the-reader-will-hate-you-forever mean. Don’t just give your hero grief, give her the worst day imaginable.
9. Do you always go for the extreme?
What keeps readers reading is high-stakes action. In the words of Spinal Tap, dial it up to 11. The higher the stakes, the better the book.
Michael Stearns is an agent and partner of Upstart Crow Literary Agency. You can visit his website at: http://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=O8uEK&m=IsxyiV6D9FLsQz&b=7cPIzxf9UuUk28zsEYoWSw
Bruce Hale began his career as a writer while living in Tokyo, and continued it when he moved to Hawaii in 1983. Before entering the world of children’s books, he worked as a magazine editor, surveyor, corporate lackey, gardener, actor, and deejay.
Bruce has written and illustrated over 25 books for kids. His Underwhere series includes Prince of Underwhere and Pirates of Underwhere. His Chet Gecko Mysteries series includes: The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, The Big Nap, The Malted Falcon, Hiss Me Deadly, and others. More at http://www.brucehale.com/