Wednesday, June 18, 2014

To Plot Perchance to Scheme

My current work in progress is about a middle-aged woman who is dealing with issues surrounding her aging mother. Her mother is showing signs of dementia. I know where I want my story to go. I know what I want my main character to learn, feel, and do. But my plot is weak.

Tension? I have tension aplenty. Dialogue? No problem. Flawed but lovable characters? Oh, yes. But the plot? Weak.

The basic premise is that Karen’s mother can no longer live on her own. She comes to live with her daughter. Timely, yes. But, as I said, it’s weak. What triggers that move? What sequence of events brings about Karen’s “aha” moment in coming to appreciate her mother? What underlying plot or event will drive the story to its conclusion?

To address the problem, I began asking myself “what if” kinds of questions. “What if Karen and her siblings had a falling out?” “What if Granny ran away from home?” The bottom line—“What happened to make Karen take on the role of caregiver?” And for a subplot, “What if Karen’s husband lost his job?” “What if…?” Well, you get the idea.

Remember those “which way” books so popular for middle school kids in the eighties? Because dementia itself has so many twists and turns, I actually considered writing this as one of those—for adults!

This week I’ll be working on strengthening the plot. I want to have a clear direction.

Curiously enough, when I looked the word plot up in the dictionary, the first definition was of a secret scheme or devised plan to cause disruption. I’ve read a few books where I think this is the definition the writer used. In fact, the story line was so convoluted the plot remained a secret even as I read the final words of the book.

Once, when my husband read such a book, plodding through the murkiness of the text chapter by chapter, he found great relief in finishing the novel and declared it a classic.

“A classic?” I was confused. I had heard his groaning all the way through the many days of reading.

“Not the good kind of classic,” he answered. “The kind where you’re forced in school to read it, you never understood it, but your teacher tells you it’s a classic.”

Ahhh…a boring book. I understood. We had a few of the same teachers in school. Where there was no plot or substance our teachers insisted the book was laden with symbolism.


This simple truth remains: good novels have a strong plots. They may have a main plot and several subplots intertwined, but there is a plot. Plot and characters work together to shape the story. When something happens in the sequence of events, the characters react. Their reactions shape what happens next.

A plot: A sequence of events that take place in a moment or over years.  The plot can make or break the story. Characters are great and we want people to identify with them, cheer for our protagonist and hiss at the antagonist, but without a sequence of events for our characters to experience, we have a boring book.

I certainly don’t want to write a boring book, do you?

What are you doing to strengthen your writing?


  1. I lived through that situation in the past two years with my mother-in-law. In the middle of it, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and then we found out our younger son was diabetic. For us, that was the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of caregiving. I'll be interested in reading your novel and seeing how this all shakes out.

    1. Thank you Barb. It's that old adage "When it rains, it pours." In all of my research I am finding this over and over. My grandmother also suffered from dementia. It pulls at the family from every side. Hope all is well with you now.


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