Monday, May 09, 2011

Four Plot Problems

There comes a time when the novel or screenplay gets pitched. That's when the product of our imagination and perspiration gets boiled down to a few short lines of prose - the story in a nutshell.

With all the gorgeous imagery stripped away, with all the texture, twists, turns and sub-plots gone, the producer, agent or publisher see our stories laid bare. It is an unforgiving moment - one in which any fundamental plot problems will probably be exposed. These are issues I try to anticipate BEFORE getting to the end of the writing process.

Here are four classic plot problems that should be clear by the time 25% of the story has been written.
  • We don’t identify with the protagonist. She/he may be in danger, in love or in pain but ultimately we don’t care.
  • The trigger is not big enough to make us believe the protagonist will do the things she/he will need to do in the story.
  • The trigger is reversible, so we do not believe the protagonist will stay the course when things get really tough. She/he should simply turn around and go back home to live a quiet life.
  • The protagonist is too passive – events happen and the protagonist reacts. The protagonist has become a character drifting down a river rather than actively swimming, someone that events happen to rather than a person who initiates change.

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