Posted On October 9, 2009 by Print This Post

Troubleshooting Your Plot Holes

Good morning and welcome to Chaos Theory of Writing.  Our guest today is Mary Buckham, co-creator of Break Into Fiction.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mary when she presented a workshop I attended several years ago.  I was so impressed with her workshop that when we developed Romance University, she immediately went on my list of possible visiting professors.

Mary is here today to discuss potential plot problems.

Here’s Mary!

mary_portrait_optimized_2Creating a novel-length story requires compiling a huge amount of information from character development to the final resolution.  Every writer has his or her own way of pulling all of that together to end up with a book, but regardless if you are a pantser or a plotter there are certain elements in all commercial fiction.  

There’s no way I can take you through all the levels of Character-Driven Plotting in one blog article, so I’d like to go over some of the biggest problems or issues I see in our Plot YOUR Book in 2 Days Retreats attended by new writers and mass market published authors. 

All writers get excited about a story because of something that ignites an original idea or a scene they envision or a character talking to them.  That’s great. You need to hold onto what excites you about the story.  New writers and published authors run into similar problems, but for different reasons.  A newer writer may not be familiar with all the components of a compelling story as they are often still going through the initial learning curve.  A published author is very aware of what is necessary, but does not recognize when a story is lacking those components – how to find plot holes. 

Trouble shooting a novel length commercial fiction story and rejection letters:

- The infamous “sagging middle” indicates a lack of plot, lack of turning points, lack of stakes rising and possibly a lack of character development.

 - A rejection that says “Interesting story concept but I didn’t connect with the characters” means character development is lacking.

- A rejection that says “…not big enough to be single title” may indicate a large enough premise for a single title but what you consider subplot is not significant to the central story line. 

How do you find these holes?  A good place to start is with the character to see if he/she is truly motivated or just “doing things the author needs them to do.”  Or, ask yourself if your character’s external goal is really strong, or worthy of an entire book. BreakIntoFiction1

Another problem we see often is that the central character(s) don’t really accomplish anything or move the story forward – they just go from one non-escalating action to another that has no true impact on the story.

No author intentionally creates plot holes or scenes that don’t work hard enough. The best way to locates problems with the plot or characters is to ask a more experienced writer or find an instructional program that will show you how to recognize weaknesses. If that is not available that one thing you can do on your own is analyze each scene to make sure that whatever action is happening in your story impacts the external plot line or the internal growth.  In the strongest stories, the action impacts both.

So, what stumps you when it comes to plotting?

FOR THOSE WHO POST A COMMENT TO THE BLOG TODAY YOUR NAME WILL GO INTO A DRAWING FOR A COPY OF THE  Break Into FictionTM     BOOK OR ONE-ON-ONE HELP WITH A QUERY LETTER – YOUR CHOICE!

Thank you, Mary!  Be sure to join us on Monday when Tracey talks with author Sally MacKenzie about the agent/author relationship. 

Mary’s Bio:

Award-winning author Mary Buckham met her Break Into FictionTM co-author, Dianna Love while teaching online and at live workshops across the country.  As relatively new authors who can appreciate the mountain of resource books needed to learn the craft, they used their analytical skills to assimilate a program where writers could immediately apply new information learned to their own stories.  This program is called the Break Into FictionTM Template Teaching Series.  For more information, go to http://www.breakintofiction.com/ . For more information about Mary’s live and online workshops as well as her manuscript evaluation services visit http://www.MaryBuckham.comand sign up for the FREE newsletter for writers!

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43 Responses to “Troubleshooting Your Plot Holes”

  1. Welcome, Mary!

    I don’t yet have a copy of Break Into Fiction, but it sounds like I need to put it on my wish list. Plotting is definitely a problem for me. In fact, a contest judge once told me, “your writing is good enough that your CPs probably don’t realize you don’t have a story.”

    Ouch!

    I’m one of those writers who often envisions a scene and the book grows from there. And I’m writing ST contemporary, which means I don’t have a huge suspense element. Any suggestions for making the reader (and agent and editor) decide MY contemporaries are worth reading – LOL?

    Thanks so much!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | October 9, 2009, 12:06 am
    • Hi Kelsey ~~ Thanks for stopping by today! Trust me that you are not alone in creating stories without a plot — many writers do and then beat their heads against the wall to get sold. Think of plot as the structure of the story, a structure that a reader understands even if they can’t put that understanding into words. You would not buy a house with a shaky structure and editors are loath to buy a story facing the same issues simply because readers will be frustrated because they will be reading a story where stuff just happens vs a story where when stuff happens it grows organically out of what happens before and sets up what happens next. If it helps, many of the writers we taught the Break Into Fiction concepts to in person realized they did exactly what you are doing — and by digging deep into the templates we provide in the Break Into Fiction book they stopped just having stuff happened and learned how to create a strong plot and thus a selling story. Check with your local library or writers group to see if they have a copy of Break Into Fiction and see if, with a few tweaks here and there, you can revise a story from one help together only by beautiful writing to one held together by writing AND plot.

      Hope this helps and best of luck ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 12:41 pm
  2. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for joining us!

    What is the earliest indicator that a story lacks an appropriate plot?

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | October 9, 2009, 5:44 am
    • Hi Tracey ~~ So nice to see you here today! Hard question – I love it!! Earliest indicator is that the stakes and the risks are not increasing as the story progresses. By this I mean at three key twist points in your story – the first about 1/4 way into the story, the 2nd called the Crisis and about 1/2th way through the story and the 3rd called the Climax or Black Moment happening about 3/4ths of the way through the story – where the risk to the protagonist – either physically or emotionally – are not increasing and what they stand to lose – the stakes – are also not increasing. Other strong indicator is if you can ask yourself the question WHY MUST THIS BE HAPPENING and you have no answer except that you as the writer want it to happen – then you are going to have plot problems. An example – if you have an opening scene where you protagonist finds a dead body there must be a reason that the character HAS to be the one to find the body – that no one else possibly could find it and the reason can’t be because you want her to do so. Hope this makes sense.

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 12:50 pm
  3. I love plotting, Mary, and really try to nail my characters’ motivation during the outline stage, but interestingly, whenever I get revisions from my editor, they centre around the motivation.

    I think having the right motivation for a character is crucial, and ensuring that character behaves according to that motivation throughout the book can be tough.

    Must add your book to my reference shelf!

    Posted by Nicola Marsh | October 9, 2009, 5:56 am
    • Hi Nicola ~~ Thank you for stopping by today and you’re spot on with your understanding of the powert of motivation. If a character MUST do something the reader will follow along to see the outcome of the action, but if they are not compelled to act [lack of motivation] then it’s easier for the reader to feel ho hum. In otherwords if acting does not matter to the character [motivation] then why should it matter to the reader. Likewise if a character simply reacts vs acts a reader quickly gets bored.

      Thanks for rasing a great point and best of luck with your writing!

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 12:53 pm
  4. Ah, the muddle–er, middle.

    I know my Act 2 struggles with raising the stakes, but I can’t seem to figure out how to fix that. Or how to recognize true motivation versus “just doing what the author wants her to do.” These are probably my weakest areas right now, and any help, suggestions, or criticisms are always welcome.

    Thanks so much for the info, Mary!

    Posted by Susan Dennard | October 9, 2009, 7:33 am
    • Hi Susan ~~ Ah – the dreaded sagging middle — trust me, many writers suffer from this syndrome! Great news is that many times the sagging middle issues can be best resolved in your set up – those initial chapters that have to work very hard and, when they do, the pay off is that the middle flows. Without specifics of your story or genre, subgenre I can’t be too specific with solutions, but if you have a chance to pick up the Break Into Fiction book what you’ll find is a lot of work goes into the earlier 1/4th of your book, just like the substructure of a building, so that the rest of the story [or building] stands straight and true. When we teach the Break Into Fiction Plotting Retreats – which are two days long – we use the whole first day making sure the first 1/4th of the story structure is sound – as a result the second day can cover the remainder of the book because where the story needs to go and what MUST happen becomes clear.

      May your Act 2 struggles be a thing of the past!

      Cheers and happy writing ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:00 pm
  5. Hi Mary. Thank you for a great post. I am a plotter. I have to at least have an outline of where the story is going because “the beast” takes over and I wind up with 135,000 words. Learned that lesson the hard way! LOL.

    The thing that frustrates me is I’ll be moving along with the story and I’ll come across one minor detail that trips up the whole plot. In my last book is was a cell phone being turned on. It took me almost a week to figure out a way around that cell phone. Is there any way to anticipate what seems to be a minor problem that actually turns into a big problem?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | October 9, 2009, 8:45 am
    • Hello Adrienne ~~ Thank you for inviting me here today – what a wonderful place to hang out with dedicated writers! I wish there was a down and dirty answer on how to avoid every pitfull of plotting but there simply isn’t. That’s the not so good news. The good news is that by understanding the structure of plot, and knowing how and where to apply certain story needs within your plot, you can more quickly avoid pitfalls. When Dianna and I started teaching the Break Into Fiction concepts we expected to work with mostly new and newer writers – which we did. However we also worked with Pulitizer Prize winning authors and authors who had published 40 and 70 plus books. What those authors wanted was a quicker way to streamline the plotting process and avoid pitfalls. One author in particular, an avowed pantster – plotted a new book in two days over the Plotting Retreat and then on the drive home plotted another one because she realized how freeing structure can be. So practice can make pitfalls less painful and less frequent.

      Hope this helps and thanks again!

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:06 pm
  6. Some of my (many!) rejections letters have cited “didn’t connect with the characters” as a problem. How do you fix that? More insight into the character’s feelings?

    Thanks, Mary!

    Posted by Peg | October 9, 2009, 8:51 am
    • Hi Peg – Great queston! I work with a lot of writers one-on-one and I see the ‘connection’ issue time and again. Biggest challenge is that we as writers face is that we often focus too much on the character as victim — hard life, broken hearts, horrible childhoods — and we forget to make them fighters. As readers we want to root for a protagonist — we want to know that life may have kicked them in the teeth but that doesn’t mean they are down for the count. We want to see characters that have fears but face them for the sake of something important or vital. Instead we write poor-me, poor-me characters that simply react to events instead of act. The other issue at play is that we don’t force them to act against hard choices.

      Hope this helps a little — creating powerful, action-driven characters can be done – regardless if the action is going after a bad guy or asking the coolest guy in school to the prom.

      Cheers and best of writing ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:23 pm
  7. Morning Mary!

    great post! My CP said my last chapter doesn’t move the story forward….and y’know..it really doesn’t. But it such a great chapter…lol….how can you tell backstory and yet get the story to move forward? Aughhh!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by carrie | October 9, 2009, 9:03 am
    • Hi Carrie ~~ Ah – back story – by default meaning action that has already happened so can not be changed and thus does not create forward movement in the story. There are places within the structure of a story though where the reader expects to see back story and will allow the author more word space allocated to the slower-paced explanation vs the faster-paced action. Key places include right before one of the three twist points because here the backstory becomes part of the debate – should they move forward and risk XX or should they stay put and risk YYY. Back story is filtered in through a character’s dilemma and shows the reader that the choices they make, and subsequent actions, have strong consequences and thus makes the reader root for them as they take action.

      Hope this helps a smidge. Take a look at template 3 in the Plotting section of the BREAK INTO FICTION book for more details.

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:28 pm
  8. I’m not a plotter, but it something isn’t happening, if the scene doesn’t have tension or if the POV character doesn’t change during the scene, I won’t hesitate to delete the scene and redo it.

    I love reading craft books and I’m eager to read yours!

    Posted by Edie | October 9, 2009, 9:10 am
    • Hi Edie — I love craft books too — so much to learn, so much fun to apply. One of the reasons Dianna Love and I created the BREAK INTO FICTION templates on plotting was because we read so many craft books but then didn’t understand how to apply the concepts to OUR stories — or weren’t sure we were applying the concepts correctly. So we created templates to ask questions of YOUR story, YOUR characters, YOUR genre – regardless of what genre it is — so you can start working right away. not on reading craft books but on applying the concepts. I hope you enjoy the book and gold stars on your willingness to ruthlessly cut or revise if a scene is not working hard enough.

      Cheers and happy writing — Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:33 pm
  9. I sometimes have issues with characterization of characters that are very different from me. I’m learning that I have to do a better job defining and analyzing their motivation in order to understand them.

    Posted by Kait Nolan | October 9, 2009, 9:37 am
    • Hi Kait — getting our heads around a character who is not a reflection of ourselves can be a challenge but is also one of the stages of moving one’s writing from a hobby or fantasy stage of writing – to that of real writer. We still tend to write certain types of characters vs others but getting into the skin, mind and emotions of a different person is hard work. The pay off can be amazing though. I’d recommend Laurie Schnebly’s BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS Creating with Enneagrams or Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders’ HEROES & HEROINES Sixteen Master Archetypes as resources to explore different personality types.

      Cheers and happy writing ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 1:38 pm
  10. Moving the conflict forward based on character motivations. I think I see-saw between what the character is motivated to do and what I think would be a cool thing to do, which typically requires a different motivation and gets me thinking about my character differently. I have to force myself back to who the character is so I don’t change the character.

    Posted by PatriciaW | October 9, 2009, 10:35 am
    • Hi Patricia ~~ Controlling our characters can be a lot like controlling a sack full of cats on the way to the river — best intentions don’t always work alone! In the BREAK INTO FICTION book we focus on character-driven plotting so that a writer really understands that this character – to be true to themselves – can not do something out of character because the plot falls apart if they do. I was working with a gentleman just the other day who said to me – well I have my plot but I don’t have my character. My response was that if he changed characters he’d be default change the plot because what one character can and would do should be – because of back story and motivation – radically different than what another character would could and would do. So if you’re finding your character changing you should see your plot changing.

      Thanks for jumping in here and have fun with your writing!

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 2:01 pm
  11. This is very helpful. Thanks! You also make me interested in your book.

    For me I think one of the most difficult skills to learn is dissecting the plot so the real story comes out, the emotional, action-packed story with the wonderful characters you envisioned.

    Posted by writtenwyrdd | October 9, 2009, 11:04 am
  12. Thanks for stopping by today to discuss plot. By dissecting I’m assuming you’re meaning stepping away from all the scenes, the actions, the secondary characters etc to the structure – which is indeed the essence of plot. The rest are details that should come out of plot and are dependent upon plot. This is why editors and agents want synopses – not to torture us [though that often can happen] but because a strong synopsis can clearly show if the story has a solid structure – or a solid plot. A synopsis pares the details away to see the story essence — and one of the biggest challenges writers have in constructing a synopsis is they can discover they really have no, or at the minimum a shaky plot – holding their story together. So spot on in your drive toward story essense because that’s another way of saying a drive toward a clear plot.

    Cheers ~~ Mary B

    Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 2:07 pm
  13. I have to know my character before I start writing. Where they went to school how many siblings they had. Did they get along? All kinds of crazy stuff. I am not a plotter. I do write an outline first and attempt to follow it. But darn those characters! They have a mind of their own. In my current WIP my heroine up and tells me something in the second chapter that changes everything. Grrr. As you can tell, I’m still searching for the way that works best for me.
    In this WIP I had the insanity to make the heroine an Intelligence officer who is an interrogator and hostage negotiator. What was I thinking? A character says one thing and the body language says another. Needless to say, I’ve been pouring over Mary’s lecture packages on body language. I am starting to chart plot twists as I go. I’m sure when this is finished I will have a zillion plot holes that need to be fixed. At this point I just want to get the rough draft down.
    Mary any advice for keeping track of numerous plot twists to keep the plot holes down?
    Rita

    Posted by Rita | October 9, 2009, 2:47 pm
    • Hi Rita ~~ Gold stars you for maximizing Body Language in your story. I just finished a book last night that did not have one fresh way of describing body language and I gritted my teeth all the way through it! As for numerous plot twists — hmmm – there should really be only three major twists that turn your story around, increase the stakes and risks to your protagonist. There should be numerous complications or obstacles leading toward or away from the Twists but only three of those. Why? Because if you have multiple twists you’re diluting the importance of the main three and you’re also telling a reader more stuff is going to happen vs these key points of your story being scaled and then the ramifications of that scaling being dealt with as the story progresses. Think of a plot as a year in school mastering a subject that once mastered means you have grown and changed as a student. There’s the first key test taken that shows you how much you have yet to learn but also clearly gets you into the subject matter you’re studying. Then you have a mid-term and eventually the Final exam. Those are the three plot twists – you can not grow and change if you don’t face and pass those key tests. All the spot quizzes and weekly tests are simply steps leading up to and away from these key tests. Each story thread should have 3 plot twosts — some on the page and some not depending on the genre and the length of the book and the importance of the thread. So obstacles and complications should lead up to and away from plot twists – 3 only. Make sense?

      Hope this helps a little and have fun with that body language info :-)

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 3:27 pm
  14. Such great info here. Thanks, Mary! My problem is raising the stakes, which inevitably leads to a sagging middle. One part of it is that I just can’t think of something mean to do to my H/h, within the confines of the plot, and with proper motivation. But another is, what if I put my heroine on a desert island, and I can’t write her off?? LOL. Your book is definitely on my wish list.

    Thanks RU, this site is a wonderful resource.

    Posted by Lu | October 9, 2009, 3:00 pm
    • Hi Lu — love the thought of the remote island as a means to increase stakes and risk – but short of that what it sounds like you are dealing with is true conflict on the page. In a romance think in terms of if one wins or gets XX it means the other loses YYY. To show love one must be willing to abandon or lose what they value so that the other wins. You have great conflict when you are stumped yourself as an author – don’t worry, there’s always a solution – but if you can’t see the solution in plain sight then the reader can’t see it either. Get your conflict solid and it’ll be easier to look at the increasing risk and stakes. Leave the conflict soft or easily resolved and you’ll get the sagging middle every time.

      Best of luck with your writing and thanks for stopping by today!

      Cheers ~~ Mary B

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 3:31 pm
  15. Hey Mary.
    I love your book and all the templates. A fabulous tool for a writer’s toolkit.

    I have manuscripts that have done well in contests, but the editors/agents aren’t buying. Structual weakness in the stories, I’m sure.

    So my questions to you..
    -Are all stories salvageable?
    -If so are there specific things to look for to know when to throw in the towel and when to get revising and refining?

    Posted by Judythe Morgan | October 9, 2009, 3:29 pm
  16. Hey Judythe – so fun to have you here today and posing some great questions. First one – are all stories salvagable – YES – depending on the issues at stake. All stories can be structurally re-enforced but in the changing of the story structure, generated by the character’s decisions and actions – you may be creating a different story. If you as the author can live with that different story then you’re okay — but if you can’t then hard decisions must be made. Which leads to your second question about throwing in the towel. This question has so many variables that it creates no easy yes or no answer. A story can be fresh and exciting when you first write it but if several years have passed and the market changes you may no longer have a marketable story or one that needs major re-writing to become marketable. If a story changes and thus impacts the major story questions raised in it — and those questions do not drive you as an author to find answers – then that story may have passed its prime too. If the core story though is timeless and external changes to the plot line – setting and driving incident – can be updated without changing the timelessness of the story – then continue to run with it. Many times I see a story line based on stories the writer read 10-15-30 years ago and loved – so they want to write those kinds of stories. That’s a little like trying to sell an outfit or hairdo that was perfect 10-15 or 30 years ago to someone today — there’s no longer a market for it. Doesn’t mean the writing is bad or the story isn’t great – there’s just no market – at this time – for it.

    Hope this helps a little. Thanks for stopping by and have fun with your writing!

    ~~ Mary B

    Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 3:41 pm
  17. Hi, Mary,

    The various questions posed here today and your responses have provided me with a wealth of information. Thank you, everyone.

    My question concerns internal conflict. I keep finding myself reverting to my character’s childhood or some earlier incident that is preventing them from achieving the goal they have set for themselves. Several years ago there was a training theory that said, “who you are now is who you were when.” I guess that stuck with me, because that’s where I tend to go. Would you comment on this? It works for me, but am I missing something or some other approach that would help me round out my character better?

    Barb

    Posted by Barbara Kroon | October 9, 2009, 3:46 pm
  18. Hi Mary, my question is probably the same as the one above. When do you decide to ditch a story that has a great premise, and you love your characters, but you’ve written it about 4-5 times and still can’t get it right? :( Is it because maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew at this point in my writing ability? Also, I have problems coming up with the real internal conflict between the hero and heroine – I try to put some twist in to the “tried and true” hooks, but so far, I’m not getting anywhere. In my current WIP, the H/H are thrown together in to a life and death situation, but other than they both feel guilty over some things, I haven’t figured out how to tie them together. Does this make sense, lol? I’ve finaled in contests so I know I can write at a certain level. And I’m a PRO. I’d really like to figure out how to put a book aside if it’s not working or feeling “right” and start on a new project. Maybe I’m just afraid I’ll never be able to write anything else! (I’ve finished 2 MS and a half)

    Thanks for your generous responses, btw, it’s been a great learning experience to talk both plot and characters!

    Posted by Milena Edwards | October 9, 2009, 3:53 pm
    • Hello Milena — what a pretty name :-) and some very hard questions without easy answers. Regarding should you keep rewriting or move on — it sounds like you’ve reached the point that you need a cold, objective read by someone who knows your genre and can give you some clear understanding of what you’re dealing with. For example – I do manuscript evaluations [and am booked solid right now] but this is one of the most common issues people come to me with – what’s wrong with this story. Many times I can say XX and YYY needs fixing to make it marketable – or – here’s your core story – this other stuff is creating you speed bumps or – this story is past it’s prime and this is why. Then you can make a solid decision you can live with – continue to rewrite or let go. I know that at many Conferences and on the Brenda Novak Auction you can find authors who will do cold reads and give you feedback. It might be worth it to spend your money to get an honest evaluation instead of spending your time to keep knocking your head against the wall. The internal conflict issue on the other hand sounds like you are not really dealing with a character’s true belief systems – that which drives them to make certain choices over others and thus impacts their actions – and instead are remaining at the ‘guilt’ level. Guilt can work to a degree [turst me, as a mother I know this] :-) but when the stakes increase and the risks increase guilt is not going to drive the hard choices – what happens then is your tension decreases because you lower the level of your conflict to guilt vs digging into that guilt to find out what’s behind it. Example – I might go to a meeting I don’t want to attend because my mother or freinds will make me feel guilty if I don’t, but no way will I go up against a killer or do something I’m truly afraid of [heights, spiders, blood] based on guilt. See the problem? Dig deeper into your characters fears and belief systems to determine what will drive them to do or not so something hard and then push them toward that. Example – you have a character who’s petrified of heights. At the first twist point they have to climb up a ladder — hard choice and action – in order to achieve XXX. That tells the reader XXX is important. Then at the 2nd Twist Point or the Crisis they must step out onto a ledge of a two-story building. Yowser – stakes and risks have surely increased here. Then – at the Black Moment – this character has to cross a small rope bridge stretched across a canyon. What would force this character to do that? That’s what you as the author are driving them to – and you’ll have your readers cheering them on because they know this is not an easy choice or action. Make sense?

      Best of luck in your writing and keep moving forward!

      Cheers ~~ Mary B :-)

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 4:37 pm
  19. Hi Barbara ~~ So fun to see you here today – thanks for stopping by! This advice – who you are now is who you were when – is spot on because what this speaks to is the core belief system for an individual. Core belifs tend to be created when we are very young and create connections that in turn becomes beliefs that impact our adult decisions, or are created in moments of great trauma and stress. A core belief goes like this [and yes, these are true for individuals as well as our characters]. If XXX then YYY. You supply the XXX. For example If I love then YYY – for one character based on their childhood or a traumatic event might believe that if they love they will be abandoned, or betrayed, or hurt beyond measure, or too dependent, or whatever. Changing that belief system becomes the internal character growth for that character. So over the course of the story you as the author must force them to face their belief system – their biggest fear – in order to change and grow. Trust me – we don’t wake up in the morning thinking – today will be a good day to change my belief system :-) No, our subconscious truly believes, based on that extreme emotion and memory associated with the original formation, that if that character learns to love bad things will happen – or if they learn to trust even worst things will happen. But because of the external situation you place this character in they must confront the limitations of their internal belief system in order to become a different, stronger, better and more whole person at the end of their story. How you do that is based on the external obstacles and tests they over come, hard decisions made and ever harder actions taken. Push them toward their fears and you’ll have readers rooting for them to suceed. So there’s a reason we look to our characters’ childhoods – but you don’t need to limit yourself to that – you can also explore any traumatic adult event that creates a strong association.

    Hope this helps — Mary B :-)

    Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 4:01 pm
  20. Hi Mary,

    I like your comment about backstory becoming part of the debate for the character. It does seem like an appropriate time for the character to weigh the pros and cons of their next major action, and the backstory is going to contain the reasons why they might not want to move forward. It also gives the character a chance to see how far they have come, or how much they have changed.

    I purchased (and then consumed) “Break Into Fiction” at the Writer’s Digest conference in May. I think it’s time to read it again, to see what my brain will focus on this time around! It really is a great book.

    Posted by Donna | October 9, 2009, 4:30 pm
    • Hi Donna ~~ how nice to see you here today and thank you for your kind words about the Break Into Fiction book. We sold out in New York that weekend so I’m glad you managed to snag a copy. You’re spot on in understanding that back story shows the readers the risks and stakes for a character and revealing this before they take a major action – which raises a large story question – gives the reader a chance to understand exactly what’s at stake in the story. Many times back story is inserted into the first pages of a story because we as the writers feel the reader needs all this cool info to love the characters as we do :-) Big mistake. If a reader is not yet vested in what the protagonist is doing, or needs to do, an info dump is not going to help and is actually going to keep a reader from getting caught up into the story. As you dig back through the BREAK INTO FICTION book take a good look at the Pros and Cons Template under the Plotting section to see the perfect place to feed in back story.

      Cheers and thanks for stopping by today! ~~ Mary B :-)

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 4:46 pm
  21. Hi Mary,

    My plotting problem is that I’ve had to learn a new way to write. I’ve always been a pantser that did a little bit of plotting at the chapter level. In January I had an accident that left me with a brain injury and losses that impacted my writing and I’ve had to make significant adjustments. Believe me plotting is a scary thing for a pantser.

    I am now a panster that has to learn to plot becuase I can no longer see the writing just happen like I used to. Your book has been highly reccommend to me. I also met you last October at the KOD retreat in Portland. You were very interesting to listen to and I’m hoping I can find some helpful information from your book.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Donna

    Posted by Donna L | October 9, 2009, 4:51 pm
    • Hi Donna ~~ I’m so sorry to hear about your injury and do remember your from last October in Maine. Didn’t you act out one of the roles in the Crime Renactment Scene? Usually when I talk to writers about plot and hear from pantsters the same issues keep coming up – the hesitation to get trapped or hemmed in by too much information that then kills the story for these writers. I can understand that perfectly. What we have found through our BREAK INTO FICTION retreats is that about half the participants are pantsters who are looking for a way to save them from throwing out hundreds of pages of a manuscript as they write themselves out of blind ends. The cool thing is that when they use the templates we’ve created they do not need to outline the whole book but rather they have a blueprint to what has to happen next in the story. This can save tons and tons of time and frustration. It’s as if you’re given a map to the next stop on your destination – one that will get you there while leaving you free to explore along the route. I hope you find the templates useful and that your new process can be fruitful for you!

      Take care ~~ Mary B :-)

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 6:30 pm
  22. Hi Mary,

    Thanks so much for this discussion on plot. Between your post and your answers to previous comments, I’m enlightened and encouraged.

    Best regards,
    Jeanne

    Posted by Jeanne Vincent | October 9, 2009, 5:51 pm
    • Hi Jeanne ~~

      How delightful to have you stop by today and thank you for the kind words. I hope you discover that ‘plot’ does not have to be a four-letter word of the negative variety but can be a roadmap toward writing success. Just like we push our characters toward their fears, if plotting is a fear, the issue might not be in the process of plotting as much as understanding exactly what plot means. By all means we must honor our pocessess and I’m not telling any one to write only one way. But I love sharing info about the Break Into Fiction templates because they can take a lot of the fear and pain out of plotting and something should be easy as a writer :-))

      Thanks again for popping in ~~ Mary B :-)

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 6:34 pm
  23. Thanks for a great post, Mary. The most difficult part of plotting for me is coming up with events to fill the book. Any suggestions?

    Posted by Sheila A. | October 9, 2009, 6:34 pm
    • Hi Sheila ~~ Thanks for popping in here today. Great news is you shouldn’t just be filling the book with events :-)) There should be baby steps the protagonist takes toward three main turning or twist points in the story. Think of plot as a road map. If I wanted to drive from Seattle to Boston and I had a plot [map] I could see the quickest way was straight east along I-90 and with maybe a side trip into Chicago and two other points I could get to my destination. But without a map [no plot] I could head south or north – find myself in Mexico or Canada and doing a lot of backtracking trying to get to Boston. This would be coming up with events to fill the book. I’d have events galore but not necessarily the baby steps that clearly build one upon another to get me where I want to go. So if you find you’re being challenged to ‘fill your story’. Whip out your Break Into Fiction book and look at the 11 plot templates and viola – get rid of the fill. :-)

      Hope this helps ~~ Mary B :-)

      Posted by Mary Buckham | October 9, 2009, 6:44 pm
  24. Thanks for a great post, Mary. The most difficult part of plotting for me is coming up with events that will fill the book. any suggestions?

    Posted by Sheila A. | October 9, 2009, 6:35 pm
  25. Hi Mary,
    What, in your opinion, makes a plot “dated” ? I’ve just pulled Ronald Tobias’ “20 Master Plots (and how to build them)” off my shelf , and these appear to follow universal themes, even though my copy was printed in 1993. Are you referring to taking a fresher, more contemporary approach through characterization, setting, philosophy, world view…or something more intuitive?

    Posted by Barbara Ann | October 9, 2009, 9:13 pm
  26. Hi Mary,
    Loved your post. I was writing for years before I realized I had no plot. How completely and utterly embarrassing. Having realized what I missed, I am now rather plot obsessed with stories I read and movies. It seems a good exericise for me to study many of sagging midsection. When done right it makes reading a joy. When missed it is very disappointing to the viewer or reader. I am trying to turn these observations toward my own work with some serious revising. Your comments are straightforward yet filled with wisdom about a topic many have difficulting putting into words other than feelling it intuitively. Thank you! Jennifer

    Posted by Jennifer Hilt | October 10, 2009, 8:17 am

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