Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision — 7. Plot

Seventh element in this series: Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision
(Please read the Introduction, if you haven’t already.)


This, too, may seem self-evident, but I assure you, for some authors it is not: A plot should be logical, even in the wildest fantasy or sci-fi novel. Is the conflict contrived, unbelievable? Beware of plot holes: something missing from the story line that leaves the reader confused or, even worse, shaking her head in disbelief and laying the book aside. You want your readers laughing with you, not at you.

For example: Four characters are stranded in the post-apocalyptic Arizona desert and struggle to survive while being chased by bad guys intent on killing them; then, just when they are about to escape, without any suspicion or foreshadowing, one character betrays them. It feels contrived and implausible.

Example: Midway through the story, the primary POV shifts from the protagonist to a private investigator and a group of cartoonish cops, reading is if it were two different stories.

Rules to write by:

  • If you write genre fiction, use the “formula” as a skeleton, not a full-body suit.
  • The Hero’s Journey is tried and true; study it, then mold your own story, with a twist.
  • Avoid contrived scenarios that merely drag out the story without contributing to the story’s theme, message, or ultimate objective.
  • Keep the focus and POV on your primary characters.
  • Avoid deus ex machina endings (implausible or unbelievable).

Logistics: Watch for places where a character does things that don’t make sense or seem implausible, or the characters are repositioned without a transition.

For example:

  • A character is in Coronado, which is flanked by San Diego Bay, but the author writes: He left the car and sought solace in the rocking arms of Mission Bay.
  • A character picks up a gun in his left hand, and two paragraphs later he picks up a second gun with his left hand, and he intends to use the gun.
  • Two detectives get out of a car, but in the previous paragraph they were in the police station. This might work in a movie, where the viewer has visual cues, but not in a book.
  • It’s nighttime and dark, but the characters can see details as if it were full daylight.
  • The cell phone won’t work in a remote area, but 100 pages later, it does work.
  • A character in a post-apocalyptic hospital cuts all the electrical power to the building. Two pages later, she turns on lights and uses electrical equipment.

In science fiction and paranormal, you can create a new world, but the actions and situations still need to be plausible within the boundaries of that world.

Eighth in the series: Information Dumps

About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- -- --
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2 Responses to Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision — 7. Plot

  1. Pingback: Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision | Polishing Your Prose

  2. Pingback: Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision — 6. Characters | Polishing Your Prose

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