Friday, July 3, 2009

The Convenience Of Everything...

Lately, I’ve been running across manuscripts wherein our illustrious heroine is placed so conveniently that she literally does nothing to further her own life or the storyline at all.

What am I talking about?

Let us set aside the passive heroine for the moment and concentrate on plot here. For those of you who hear me constantly preach about characterization, just hold on, I’m getting to it…or the lack thereof.

Plot is a tool to further the story. It is the action, the backdrop and the surroundings that our hero and heroine wade through as they discover their own feelings for each other.

I once determined that a good, 20 page chapter required four different scenes to act as a foil for the characters. These scenes had to comprise some form of action so our characters could act, react, compare notes, and resolve. So, the plot of a story would be something like…

The heroine’s diamonds are lost.

The characters look high and low aboard the ship, bumping into each other as they pat down the stern sheets, empty out lockers and check the beds in steerage.

The diamonds are found when a passenger bites down on his coq au vin and breaks a tooth.

It is discovered that the heroine had visited the deck where the seagulls landed on the railing for the scraps the cook threw out and one of them snatched the diamonds out of heroine’s handbag which she accidentally left on a deck chair…and the cook had run out of chicken for his dish, so he got the next best thing…

Basically, the plot above tells the actual story. There’s not one bit of characterization except in the distant sense – an idiotic heroine who brings her handbag up deck, and a cook who doesn’t want to disappoint the passengers about the meal.

The heroine, except mentioned in the first sentence, is unnecessary for the story.

Now, let us return to my first sentence. In a plot rich environment, the heroine is placed so that many things can be happening around or to her, but she comes through unscathed, not only in body, but without a thought of the uniqueness of the situation.

1. Our heroine is thumbing rides and although everyone else would be at the mercy of an axe murderer, our heroine remains completely safe and she even gets money from the trucker who picked her up.

2. Our heroine, without any knowledge at all, gets an executive position without any credentials and then does an outstanding job, better than all the college grads around her.

3.Our heroine escapes death in an avalanche because she wanted to explore a pretty little shanty in the woods. A shanty that has food, water and a heat source, so she could survive for two weeks until rescued.

Each of these plots are active. But our heroine is not. When too many outstanding coincidences such as the three above appear in one manuscript, it is a lack of control over characterization. The heroine didn’t actively participate in any of the above, they just “happened” to her. Heroines are supposed to be proactive in their lives. They also need to have emotions and feelings clearly defined when these extraordinary things are going on.

To conveniently place people on a stage to “act out” a role, without delving into what they’re thinking and feeling is simply a plot that doesn’t even need a heroine or hero.

Since romance needs both, The Convenience Of Everything won’t work.


Eilidh said...

Thank you so much for this, Jamie. I always learn from your posts. The Convenience of Everything makes a very dull story.

Clare Revell said...

I shall remember this. Thank you. Though I'd be more wary of the trucker who paid me for riding in his truck than the axe murderer ;-)

Wendi Zwaduk and Megan Slayer said...

Great points! Thanks for pointing them out so we writers can improve our work and our craft.

Donna B said...

LOL. Did you make up those lovely convenient plot lines, or did you suffer through them while you were editing?

Nice article. It's easy to fall into the convenient thing happening, but it really does make for a much better story when she has to makes something of herself, or prove something.

Thanks for another good one Jamie!

Jamie West, Editor said...

Thanks, Eilidh!

Clare, I hear ya.

Wendi, I'm glad someone reads them!

Donna, No - I simply thought up improbable scenes like ones I've seen. ~ J ~

Mary Ricksen said...

I love to learn more about writing every day. Thanks for giving us this gift today.

Debra St. John said...

Thanks for sharing these tips. It's so easy to get caught up in one or the other and forget that the characters and the plot need to work together!

Aimlesswriter said...

Great post! When I read things like this I try to look at my work with a fresh eye; did I do this? Am I guilty?

Sarah Simas said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful 411! *heehee* I even jotted down some quick notes.