Crazy Eights - Plot, Protagonist, & Platitudes
So, you’ve typed The End on the last page of your manuscript and you’re feeling mighty proud. Wine glasses up, (milk glasses for under 21s) cue the ticker-tape parade, alert the media. The sense of accomplishment is staggering. You’ve achieved what many have undertaken and never finished. That is a wonderful feeling that deserves praise. Serious props and respect coming at ya! Recognizing a nugget of an idea and sculpting it into a book-length story is extraordinary.
Now reality rears its ugly questioning head and it brings along the nosy, judgmental Gladys Kravitz, to throw shade at your manuscript. (Samantha and Darrin Stephen’s gossiping neighbor, from the TV show Bewitched, who lived across the street and peeked out the window to spy on the neighbors) Maybe that’s a good thing.
Setting aside spelling, punctuation, grammar, redundancy, and the usual irritating suspects, let’s chow down on the meat and marrow of your story. Think of it this way, you’re the proud owner of a brand-new car, congrats; you must still fill it up with gas, check the tire pressure, change the oil, and take it to the car wash.
Let’s Play Crazy Eights!
I’ve compiled eight questions to ask yourself before you send your baby off to an agent, who will:
Detect plot holes like they have x-ray vision
Spot shoddy writing quicker than an aardvark searching for ants
Turn their nose up at a boring protagonist who never blossoms
Stop reading if plots start intersecting to the point of creating an intricate Spirograph shape
Not make it to page two if they deem something is off with the starting point of your story
1. What’s up with your protagonist?
Your protagonist needs to grow. Stagnant protagonists are a big no-no. Your main character and possibly their cohorts, need to learn, test their wings, attain something. Whether they acquire something positive, or negative is up to you and the story you weave. My advice is fatten-up the ante, get the reader invested in the risks your characters confront or oppose and clarify the outcome of those decisions. Ultimately, they should mature in some way and triumph over circumstances they struggled with. Though the stakes may evolve during writing, don’t lose sight of them.
Example of stakes: Nadine faces her nemesis and his army of odd creatures. He issues an ultimatum – hand over the magical amulet so he can rule the universe with her as his doxy or watch her sister die. The fate of the amulet, the universe, and her sister hang in the balance.
2. Will readers root for your protagonist or have trouble liking them?
I once read a self-published book whose main character, by emotional persona and cringe-worthy dialogue, was completely unlikeable. I remember sighing and rolling my eyes as I perused the story. The redundant prose about this character and the obnoxious, repetitive, and predictable dialogue surrounding their scenes detracted from an otherwise acceptable story.
I’m guilty of incorporating a dreadful male love interest into one of my books. I loved him. I thought he was confident and funny, but several female readers loathed him. I took the recurring negative feedback seriously and softened his badass up.
Female characters are no different. sometimes they need to get glammed up! https://www.wordytips.com/post/lose-the-ponytail-and-put-on-a-little-lipstick
3. Does your story include unnecessary scenes that stray from your plot?
If your answer to this question is, yes, then, hack away. Anything that doesn’t propel your story forward is unnecessary. This includes an abundance of exposition, rambling dialogue, and redundant prose.
A must lead to B, B must lead to C, and C to D. Get the picture?
4. Does your tale have the right number of intriguing subplots and fascinating twists and turns, or is the reader sent on a chaotic and meandering reading journey that may cause their head to explode?
Twists and turns keep the reader glued to your pages. It’s the stuff that keeps them up all night reading because the anticipation of what happens next is more important than mere sleep. Subplots are connected to the main plot without overshadowing it. They provide interesting side notes and important information as seen through the lens of additional characters and subordinate storylines. On the other hand, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. If the reader can’t follow your plot line and they need to keep stopping to digest and make sense of your narrative, they may just throw your book across the room. Always keep your plot moving.
5. Did you lose your plot along the way?
If your story contains inconsistencies that defy logic, events that conflict with earlier information, or gaps that don’t make sense, you’ve got ghastly and unwelcome plot holes. Plug ‘em up. Both chasms and tiny potholes can ruin your story. Rework the story and caulk the cracks. Be mindful of this issue while writing.
6. Is your writing stale in spots or riddled with clichés as opposed to crisp, invigorating, gooey, and delicious writing, like piping-hot chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven?
Carefully scan your manuscript for musty, dusty, moth-eaten platitudes and shove them down the garbage disposal. Insert robust, superior words and sentences to give your paragraphs a boost, thereby enhancing the narrative.
7. You’re proud of your story. You adore your characters and their nifty dialogue. Will readers fall in love with your characters and keep turning pages?
Even your best characters could use a makeover and get glammed up. Don’t be afraid to flesh out characters for yourself ahead of introducing them to your readers. Characters need a few unique qualities that set them apart from other characters. Remember, characters need to grow and change. If one or more of your darlings is utterly banjaxed (oh how I love that word) put the kibosh on him/her/it and reimagine them.
***The best dialogue should sound like conversation and consist of short and sweet sentences. Save monologues for necessary explanations.
8. Did you start your story in the right place? Maybe the ending should be the beginning. Maybe Chapter 3 should be the Chapter 1.
I kid you not, I waved my magic wand and voila. In one of my books, the ending became the beginning and in another, chapter three became chapter one. There ain’t nothing wrong with that. If the spell works, use it.
***Here’s a neat idea to help you keep track of pesky details and important info:
Create a compendium of:
Characters and their traits, appearance, word choices, likes/dislikes etc.
Names and dates
Places and environments
Invented things such as food, drinks, machines, devices etc.
The stakes – what is at stake for your character and their world? Simply put, emotional stakes get readers involved emotionally. Should your character do A or B? What are the consequences or rewards?
Take control of your story!