You can watch any show or movie or play any game on the internet in a matter of seconds. Why would anyone ever want to read a book again? And even if some asshole with an espresso monocle and a top hat made of port did want to read a book, there are up to one-million books published every year in the North America alone, who’s to say that that beard-stroking leather-sniffing asthmatic would want to read yours?
You’ve got to make your book good. REALLY GOOD. Why not add in a few explosions? A murder? Incest? Maybe that mysterious man on the subway platform is the exiled president of Bulgaria who ends up falling in love with and stalking your main character.
You could, but then you’d be a victim of PLOT ANXIETY (cue spooky music).
All writers, regardless of their level of experience, have had moments where they sit in front of their story and go, OH NO THIS IS TOTALLY BORING AND NO ONE WILL EVER WANT TO READ IT. I know for me when my fear of being boring takes over my first impulse is to shove in a whole bunch of plot twists and extra scenes to add a little spice to my burrito if you know what I mean (I don’t even know what I mean, but humor me).
Unfortunately, what starts as a really great surprise element that readers will for sure find irresistible usually ends up seeming gimmicky, distracting and A GIANT MESS!!!
It’s okay to have a murder or an explosion or a car crash or any other huge and dramatic event in your book if that is what your book is about, but if you’re just stuck or worried about your story not being dramatic enough, you’re probably just having a moment of plot anxiety. Go for a walk, have a shot of whiskey, maybe take a nap or read a poem, and if you’re still thinking of adding in something DRAMATIC ask yourself:
- What is this book about? Is it about the dramatic event? Yes? Then go for it?
- Can this dramatic event be a book in itself? Yes? Then why are you writing two books into one, dummy?
- What does this dramatic event distract from with regards to the direction of the story? Nothing? Are you sure? Are you REALLY sure?
- Can the emotions and results achieved by this dramatic event be achieved in a less dramatic way? Then maybe choose something less dramatic. A lot of times, a car crash or a hurricane is a lazy way to make your main character cry or dramatically change her ways. Readers will be able to see through that, and you can be a better writer than that. Challenge yourself.
- What in this book has lead up to this dramatic moment? If you’re going to have a dramatic moment in your book, you’ve got to earn it. If you drop some huge bomb in to your plot loosey-goosey readers will feel jerked around and tricked. Yes, you’re writing fiction and anything can happen, but you’re also creating a certain internal logic within the story. If there’s no mention of fault-lines or practice evacuations and then an enormous earthquake destroys a city on page 122, it’s going to feel false. Readers don’t have to believe that your story could happen in real life, but they do have to believe that the events your story could happen within the world you’ve created.
Similar to what I said with regards to setting, I like to imagine a good story is like rope. Each element of the story works together, winding tighter and making the rope stronger. If there’s a part of the rope sticking out and not fully connected, the whole thing starts to unravel.
Instead of adding a huge and dramatic event into your story to add some excitement, work within the world of the story you’ve already created to include something that fits best with the direction your story is already going in. Write a shitty first draft of your book and then ask yourself what elements are actually adding to the story you want to tell. Cut everything else out and have confidence that your story will be better for it. You read books that don’t have a bombing on every page (if you don’t might I suggest you start with this one), other people do, too.
All I’m really saying is chill, home girl, chill. More plot isn’t always better plot. Stick with a few main events and then dive deeper into them. Focus on your character’s emotions because of these events and the effects of these events. How will I care about the story and your character if she’s too busy running from the tsunami relief camp to the morgue to identify her stabbed step-mother to the circus to find her long-lost brother for me to get to know her?
Assuming you didn’t murder anyone or narrowly escape a hostage situation, write about the most interesting thing that happened to you today or this week. What were the events leading up to it? How did you feel before and afterwards? Why was it so interesting? How are you going to write it so that it’s interesting for readers as well?
One thought on “Plot Anxiety and How to Avoid Over-Plotting”
Thank you for a great post, you helped me a lot.