Continuing on from last week, we’ll look in more detail at the most common flaws found during the read through of your novel/short story. These are typical errors rather than case specific, the kind that every writer should be aware of, and more attuned to, when reading through work.
Stories need a lot of thought where plots, subplots and subtle twists and turns are concerned. That’s because they all need resolving satisfactorily by the end of the story.
In simple terms, this means providing the reader with something believable and tangible rather than something that is contrived, forced, ridiculous or highly unbelievable. Any first draft story will have numerous weaknesses where plot is concerned. The read through will flag these for you to address. Weak plots will instantly show up, as will gaping errors within the narrative.
If you don’t resolve them correctly, then you’ve created a plot flaw and your reader will spot this. All issues in your novel/story must be addressed.
Also, a plot demands that you don’t create something you can’t plausibly unravel without creating a huge headache trying to resolve it. Don’t make impossible situations with in a plot (more on this in part 3).
It’s advisable to outline how the story will take shape – use it as a rough guideline, a skeletal framework from which to work. Preparation and planning helps you focus your ideas, design subplots and possible twists, and it keeps a writer from straying too far from the story.
If holes open up within your plot, examine why this is so, then go back and attempt to fix them (plausibly).
Every story must be easy to follow and it must occur logically. If the story doesn’t make sense in certain parts, you must go back and examine why and then fix it. The whole story must make sense, not just bits of it, otherwise you will weaken the story.
Every story is borne from preceding events. Logic demands that for every situation within the plot, a resolution must follow. For this reason, new writers should try not to make the plot too complicated, otherwise you could end up confusing your reader, plus it will just cause more headaches in the writing process trying to resolve them.
There is a tendency with some writers to resort to deux ex machina when they run into plot trouble. This particular ‘get out clause’ means, roughly, "God out of the machine", and refers to a writer acting in a God like manner when a seemingly complicated problem or situation is suddenly solved in contrived, unexpected and often unbelievable way.
For example, the hero is imprisoned by the villain, and the hero’s love interest is thrown into the ocean for shark bait…but suddenly the police swoop in to rescue her (having made no mention of police or implied their intervention in preceding events), thus leaving the hero to fight the villain and win the day…everyone lives happily ever after. This is classic deux ex machina.
Every event in the story has a timeline to follow – chronologically – so an event happens, an obstacle for the protagonist is created, and then the situation is resolved by said protagonist in a satisfactory manner. Everything occurs logically.
Another problem that arises during a read through is the lack of depth from your characters. Often they don’t feel right, or you feel that something is missing from them. This is invariably because they lack emotional depth; there is little personality that comes through for a reader to empathise with, there is no substance to who your characters are.
Thinly drawn or vague characters will weaken any story because without a clearly visible personality, emotions, imperfections and faults etc, there will be no descriptions attributed to them within the narrative, hence the problem of shallow characters that don’t feel right or are missing something.
Make sure your characters have a fully formed background, a range of emotions,full personality traits and character flaws. They need to be as complex and as fragile as real people.
A writer will instinctively know during a read through if something doesn't feel right, or something doesn't work, or the characters just aren't interesting enough. It's imperative that these common errors are found before the manuscript finds its way onto the editor's desk. Finding them and fixing them is all part of the writing process - it shouldn't be left to an editor to do the work for you.
We'll look at how they can be fixed next week, and ways in which you can improve the process.
Next Week: Part 3 – Pacing problems, implausible twists, continuity and places.