Saturday, June 4, 2011

Part 18 of "Building Better Plots" and, well, a rant

In discussing the timing of major plot points, Kernen says that many of today’s movies are “like high-speed freight trains, careening violently from one explosive plot point to another, never giving the audience a chance to relax, reflect or recover”. He describes that as a “sledgehammer approach to storytelling”. I’m guessing producers use it to hide weak plots. I suppose that if all you want in a movie or novel is non-stop flash and bang, you won’t mind that approach. Personally, I prefer the books I read and most of the movies I see to offer insights as well. If you’ve read this far along my series on Kernen’s book, I bet you feel the same.

While plot points should continually move readers toward the climax of the tale, it’s okay to have some slower moments. That lets readers catch their breath and have events sink in, just like the characters. When readers can think about what happened, they can see how characters’ reactions make sense, adding to a feeling of realism. Of course, for that to work, your characters’ reactions actually have to make sense!

I have to laugh at how Kernen says to make sure each plot point keeps the story moving, doesn’t drop the tension altogether, yet sometimes gives everybody breathing space. Again, you want me to juggle 20 eggs while moving along a tightrope??

I seriously wonder how many published authors sit down with a half-formed outline and ask themselves if they have the right number of points that increase tension, the right amount of points that show characterization and just a bit of backstory, the right number of points that pull together subplots with the main plot, all while keeping most readers interested and never bored or feeling assaulted by things happening too fast.

This seems like a fair amount of subjectivism, to me. I’ve read many times how a manuscript was repeatedly passed up, only to be read by somebody at the office who doesn’t normally read manuscripts, who then brought it to the boss’ attention, who then bought the darn thing. Is it really worth spending so much of my time on something, when the people whose attention I try to catch may not feel like giving my work a second glance because they’re running late to meet their friend for lunch?

“Ahhh, this one’s in Courier New, I’m tired of looking at that font today. Toss that one out.”

“Damn, I couldn’t sleep last night. Toss this whole batch of submissions out.”

J.K. Rowling, as I understand it, got a lucky break. Somebody else in the office read her manuscript and said to the boss, “Hey, this is good, you need to read it.”

I bet J.K. didn’t sit at her computer and say, “Now do I have the plot points spaced properly?”  Sure, she had editorial help, but that was after the MS got accepted. Something about that first manuscript caught somebody’s attention.

I’d be happy with a fraction of Rowling’s readership. I’ve still got the “geis” feeling about my work in progress. Things need to be said, people need to be encouraged to think about a whole slew of stuff. It feels less like something I want to do than something that needs doing.

What about you? Do you think your project is worth slaving over a hot computer and braving the subjective weather in the publishing industry? What is that drives you to work it every chance you get, week after week? Is your WIP mainly to entertain people, or do you have a higher purpose? Or are you just doing it because it’s fun?

When we meet again, I’ll offer a perfectly acceptable reason for lying.


  1. I completely agree with your rant. I'm in the final edits stage of my WIP, and might be ready to query by July. I've done the whole query ride before. It sucks. But I'll try anyway because I guess I'm a masochist. I'm positive someone will reject the fourteen months of my heart and soul. Yet I have to try.

    I've had a blast writing this story. My critique partners enjoyed the story, so hopefully someone else will too. If no publisher wants it, I'll publish my story myself and stick my tongue out at "the industry." That's about all I can do, because I won't/can't stop writing.

  2. Hi Lindsey. How cool that you agree with me. I guess getting published is like winning the lottery; it happens, but only to some. Best of luck with your query, and thanks for leaving a comment :)