Weak Plot Avoidance Syndrome

Eradicating Jaja should have been easy; change the dialogue slightly and move on. If only…

While looking at Jaja I thought I’d step back one scene to “read myself in”. That’s when I discovered the scene before was also flawed. For someone who is revising a 100,000 word novel is kind of like hearing the watchman yell “iceberg ahead”.

As the editor/author you want to ignore that watchman. Sure, he’s just doing his job, but it’s probably only a small iceberg. It’d be so nice to carry on your merry way steaming ahead, but to do so leaves you vulnerable. It’s a moment like this when I remember a saying I read recently (paraphrased), “I like discovering my past mistakes; it means I am wiser now to be able to recognise them.”

Please, learn from my mistakes. Before drafting a scene ask yourself the question: Do my character’s actions and words fit their role and the context? There’s a reason we have the saying “that’s out of character”. A character’s actions and words should suit them. For example: we a shouldn’t expect a school dropout to cure cancer unless they are either brilliant, lucky or they have recently visited a lab and have sticky fingers. A priest isn’t going to commit cold-blooded murder unless they are really desperate or a closet-psychopath. We can be surprised by hidden motives but we shouldn’t encounter illogical reactions. Illogical reactions are like the mighty clash of a cymbal that rips your readers from the world with confusion or scorn.

My character wasn’t consistent. I had a high level thug who was overly helpful – even compassionate – toward the authorities. Career criminals are rarely so easily or conveniently reached, even if the response was helpful to the plot. That means the plot could use some strengthening.

The fix took me about a week to get through Weak Plot Avoidance syndrome:

  1. One+ days to admit the problem. (“But I’ve already edited that bit, I don’t want to change it. Are you sure it’s a problem? I could fix it, but it’s going to be hard…I could just look at my emails instead…”)
  2. Two days to work out how I was going to solve the problem, and flow-on effects.
  3. Two more for writing and re-writing the scene into a consumable quality. (“Yeah I’ve got the words on the page but they don’t flow well together”).

If only I’d identified this issue earlier there would have been less angst and no flow-on effects. And my poor, unpaid alpha readers might not have had to witness it…


Motivating Characters

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” CS Lewis

Part of the purpose of this blog is to share my writing adventure as I learn to write. That means not only sharing my accomplishments, but also highlighting the mistakes that I have made and the lessons that I have learned from those mistakes. Hopefully, after making the mistake just once. Like any good story there must be points where the protagonist succeeds and fails. Let’s pretend that I’m Catholic, and you are my story-writing Priest to whom I must confess my sins…

Experienced authors say that your first few books are likely to be complete rubbish, fit only to feed a fire and perhaps entertain your nearest-and-dearest. Very few authors have publish-worthy material in their first, second, third… Maybe – and it’s a big maybe – by the sixth book your written work is worthy of seeing the light of published day. Or it might take longer than that.

One mistake that I have made is that I didn’t define my characters well enough and it has really hurt the quality of my story, and made writing it harder.

You’ll see the progress bar (on the right) for Vengeance Will Come is ticking along fairly slowly. This reflects not only my work and other-life commitments, my bad revising technique (a future post) and the trouble that I made for myself with poorly-defined characters.

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