Friday, July 26, 2013

Discussing Plot: Complication or Situation?

For the next couple weeks, I'm doing one of my favorite things--studying books on the writing craft! Woo-hoo!

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing was put together by the editors of Writer's Digest. Featuring seventy-seven essays on writing, this book appeals to my need for bite-size lessons. Gail Gaymer Martin wrote chapter forty-three, "What is Christian Romance?" Needless to say, I have an author crush on Gail!



Anyway, I recently read Monica Wood's excellent chapter, "The Plot Thickens," where she discusses complications in a novel. She explains that many newer writers mistake a situation for a complication. For instance, a bomb destroying a building our heroine just exited sounds like a complication, right? If the character runs to her car, drives to her boyfriend's house, and continues living her life with little consequence, the bomb was merely part of a situation.

Ms. Wood explains, "A good complication puts emotional pressure on a character, prompting that character not only to act, but to act with purpose."

Sometimes we come up with a great problem to throw at our characters, like the bomb above, but we fail to fully capitalize on it. We settle for letting the heroine escape with a racing heart rather than giving her a reason to act.

After I write a scene, I immediately take fifteen minutes to review it and ask a few questions.

- Did the viewpoint character learn anything in this scene?
- Did the scene answer a question? If yes, is a new question presented?
- How did the viewpoint character grow? If she didn't grow, did she regress?
- How did this scene move the plot forward?

I almost always find a way to bring the scene to a new level by doing this. It doesn't always take much to take a "good" scene to a "compelling" scene.

The questions go back to the dilemma of situation or complication. Sometimes we think we've written a complication, but when we analyze the writing, we haven't pushed our characters enough. We've either made the situation too tidy or we've ignored a potential complication in order to push our own plot agenda.

How do you turn situations into complications for your characters? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Have a terrific weekend!

8 comments:

  1. Ooh, this is really great, Jill. It reminds me of something I learned through MBT...that every complication (or disappointment, obstacle, etc) should lead my character to a "Y in the road." It forces the character to make a decision and act. It makes all the difference in our stories, doesn't it!

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    1. So true, Melissa. The more options and questions we can give our characters, the more the reader will want to keep reading!

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  2. Thanks so much for this! Love the checklist that you do after every scene! So essential to making sure every word counts!

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  3. I love that you are always learning! I still thank you for teaching me about GMC.

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    1. It's in my nature, Terri--I love to learn! :)

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