Saturday, July 18, 2009

3 Juicy Plot Tips from Bruce Hale

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Plots are like Christmas turkeys -- we're always looking for ways to fatten them up. Juicier plots feel more complex, more satisfying. They keep readers up late turning the pages, and keep editors asking for more.

How do you make sure your book's plot is a juicy one? Here are three quick tips to help.

1. Give your character a hard time.
Throw roadblocks into your character's path. Disappoint him or her. Frequently. Give your
hero bad luck.

(Bad luck is bending over to pick a four-leaf clover and being infected by poison ivy.)

Your main character is a version of yourself. Few people would knowingly put themselves in jeopardy, but you've got to cold-bloodedly throw your surrogate into the soup -- even more than you think you do.

The more danger, the better. It can be physical, emotional, or spiritual danger, or a threat to life and limb. By piling on troubles, you hook the reader into wanting to find out how the hero
gets out of it. I call it the "UH-OH factor." They read it and go, "Uh-oh, she's really gonna get it now!"

2. Raise the stakes.
You see this in movies all the time. A regular schmo is trying to solve some small problem in his life -- like a romantic breakup -- and then he stumbles into an even bigger problem.

Or something happens to make it even more urgent that he solve his small problem (like his ex decides to get married and he has to win her back before the wedding).

In movies, the stakes often become "the end of the world as we know it." No need to go that far, unless your story warrants it.

But you can always up the ante.

For example, in my book, FAREWELL, MY LUNCHBAG, Chet Gecko is hired by his friend the cafeteria lady to discover why her food is going missing. But then, while on stakeout, the real crook frames him for the thefts. Chet then has an even stronger reason for solving the case: clearing his name.

3. Make him face his flaw.
If you want to make it even harder for your hero to solve the story's central problem, give them a flaw and put them in a situation where they have to overcome it.

(Warning: This technique *can* be over-used, but when used with finesse, it adds another layer of richness to the story.)

For example, if your hero is afraid of the dark, let her come up against this fear a few times and get off fairly easy -- not investigating that dark alleyway, or finding a friend with a flashlight to help her.

But then, when it's do or die time, leave her in a cave with no light at all. She must overcome her fear in order to find the missing kid/treasure/whatever.

Simple enough? Absolutely. But employing any of these tips can add a juiciness to your story that makes a reader want to dig it with gusto. And that's the name of the writing game.



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