In our August meeting of the Houston YA/MG Writers, Rose Moriarty led the group gathered at La Madeleine in a discussion based on a recent post at Writers Digest—11 Plot Pitfalls and How to Rescue Your Story From Them, by Laura Whitcomb. If you haven’t already read this, take some time to check it out.
This is such a great group! Some of the established authors have dozens of books published and they take their time to mentor those of us who are newer to this business. We went through this list point by point, and the published authors spoke up on the various plot issues to talk about how they have dealt with a particular problem.
As we were discussing each point, related issues sometimes came up. While we were on point six—The Plot Is Too Shallow—someone brought up The Rule of Twenty. This is a brainstorming technique to solve the problem of shallow plots: come up with twenty crazy, impossible things that could happen. Of course they won’t all work, but this is about brainstorming—no self editing allowed! Within these twenty, perhaps something one or two of them will contain the spark needed to liven up the weak plot.
Another person brought up a concept she said she had heard (or read) from Aprilynne Pike, author of Wings and Spells. Before writing a book, she comes up with sixty possible turning points for the story. If she can’t think of at least sixty, she doesn’t write that book.
One of our writers offered another great tip she heard (or read) from romance author Cherry Adair: write bios for each character in a different color ink. Then when you are writing the book, cut (not copy) information and paste it into the scenes. Your color-coded bios will shrink as you write until eventually each character’s bio page is empty. This ensures the characters are fleshed out and nothing gets repeated.
When we were on point nine—The Sequence is Illogical—someone brought up a concept discussed by Dwight Swain in his classic book Techniques Of The Selling Writer. The short story is this: scenes are followed by sequels. The structure of a scene = Goal, conflict, Disaster. The sequel = Reaction, Dilemma, Decision.
Great meeting, great folks. Special thanks to Rose Moriarty for leading this super discussion!