Monday, August 5, 2013

Is your plot Predictable? by rita karnopp

Okay, I admit it. I absolutely love TV shows like Nashville and Red Widow.  Why?  Because they feed my plotting addiction.  I’m always guessing what the next twist will be!  When I’m surprised . . . I couldn’t be happier!  When the plot is predictable or falls flat – you won’t find a more disappointed viewer/writer than me.  L   

I hate the predictable plot so much I do whatever I can to avoid them in my own novels.  So how do we know if our plot is predictable?

Recognizing predictable plots – Let’s list a few of the most obvious – you know – the plots we all recognize – groan – and say …. “Really – that plot again.”

·         Hate at first sight.

·         Love at first sight.

·         Cinderella scenario

·         Wife is dead – and we know the husband or ex-husband killer her

·         Scrooge male or female

·         Husband is dead – his young trophy wife killed him before he could change the will . . .

·         . . . . and the list goes on. . .  and on . . . and on.

Setting can fix a predictable plot – But you must be careful here, since your reader most-likely recognizes the scenario and also knows the ending.

·         Toss in some unpredictability. 

·         Make it fun, or tense, or add in believable characters the reader cares about.

·         Be extreme and push the limits . . . even go beyond them . . . until the plot takes on a ‘new’ life.

·         The bottom line – make your reader care about your characters and what is happening to them.

How Many Plots Can We Think Up?  Experts vary in citing anywhere from one to thirty-six basic plots in literature. Basic plots are gems for ideas, interweaving and meshing subplots.  Just be sure to remove clichés. Again – the key is to create something fresh, interesting, suspenseful, and totally unpredictable.

Unpredictable Plotting – So here we are back to preventing predictable plots.  Are we predictable if we write about love?  The trick and challenge is to take something old - freshen it up and make it relevant to the present and add your experiences to it.

How do you do that?  Let’s consider several options.

1. I would first suggest reading Polti for different perspectives. Or other books: Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories; James Scott Bell (nine), Plot and Structure; Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them.

2. Study successful movies and books.  We can learn from watching television – even if we pretend we don’t care about a lame or fabulous plot.  Face it – if you’re a writer – you do care!  Study the story arcs of your favorite shows and movies.  We sharpen our ‘what to do or what not to do’ when we guess the turns and twists of a TV show or movie.  We sharpen our sensitivity and editorial savvy.  Challenge your inventiveness or cleverness to make your story or novel stand out above the rest.   

3. Explore consequences and complications and consider altered actions and events.

4. Ask yourself challenging questions that can shape your theme: How to balance the many facets of your plot and the responsibilities it involves to reach your dream?  How do you overcome lifelong insecurities and let love in? How do you allow your character to triumph over past failure relationships and allow someone new into their heart? What hard choices do your characters face? How will they resolved them . . . or not?

5. Listen to family members and friends.  That may sound surprising, but you may be surprised.  I actually wrote a whole book, Revenge, because a friend’s husband put her (eight months pregnant) in a hotel near the hospital . . . because he needed space.  He promised to take them both home after the birth – but never did.  He was a rancher and he wanted a son – he already had a daughter and had no use for another.  Does this plot sound unbelievable?  Maybe, but when I tell people it truly happened – although how revenge played out was purely from my imagination – my readers loved it was based on fact to begin with.   Often times grandparents, great aunts, and other relatives have had remarkable experiences of love or tragedy; for instance experiencing war or a prison camp, poverty, or other dire circumstances. They would most likely love to share these experiences with you - if you’re willing to listen.

Don’t allow your story to be predictable . . . even when you’re writing – ask yourself – “Is this the unpredictable way to handle this?  Is this the easy plot or could I truly develop something no one could have imagined at this particular spot in the book?  What should/could happen and surprise the reader? What would surprise me at this precise moment?


Elizabeth Sims said...

Rita, this is a good post. Unpredictability is a sign of a good story. I just noticed that you posted one of my articles from Writer's Digest back in January. Glad you found it helpful, and thanks for sharing it. Since then I have a new book out, 'You've Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams' and have launched a blog called Zestful Writing. ( I'd welcome your input!

Rain Trueax said...

This was interesting as predictability is one of my complaints when I am reading. Of course, we know it's going to be a happy ending but getting there should be interesting or why bother. The other complaint I have with books i read is when they manipulate to make it unpredictable. That's no good either. It should be like life and fit what has come before not be a gimmick and that means in a movie or a book.

Rita Karnopp said...

Elizabeth . . .Your new books sound super . . . please contact me at ...:) Rita

Rita Karnopp said...

Rain . . . I so agree with you . . . when we are being forced to believe a character is the culprit - we just know he/she can't be's just too obvious. I hate the red-herring, too. Thanks for commenting. Rita

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