Writers In The Storm welcomes Kara Lennox, a.k.a. Karen Leabo to our family of bloggers. Kara is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than sixty novels of romance and romantic suspense for Harlequin and Random House.
You can read Kara’s blogs here at WITS on the first Friday of each month. She’s starting out with a big bang with a series of Plot Fixer blogs. Don’t miss out, stop by every month and get your plot fix.
By Kara Lennox
I confess, I love plot. I relish working out the three acts, the scene-and-sequel, highs and lows, black moment, climax. When it all comes together and I know a book is going to work, I actually get a natural high.
But something I love almost as much is helping other writers figure out what’s wrong with their plots, and how to fix them.
To this end, I have a workshop that I’ve given dozens of times, both in person and online. The workshop has changed names over the years. Currently it’s “Plot Fixer.” In it, I cover the seventeen most common plotting problems I’ve encountered during critiquing and contest judging, and how to overcome them. (Why seventeen? It started as an even dozen, but it’s grown.)
How did I come up with this list of plot ailments? Mostly because I’ve suffered through them myself. I’ve sold a lot of books. But I’ve also had hundreds of rejections. HUNDREDS. Many of those were form rejections, but lots and lots of them detailed problems that I have since learned to spot myself. (Yeah, I still get rejections, darn it. Always more to learn.)
I have also been a regular participant of a critique group for most of the past twenty-something years. I judge contests all the time, I critique manuscripts, and certain plotting errors I see over and over again.
Now, I’m going to pass along what I’ve learned to you … one blog at a time.
You can use this information if you already have a story written, or if you have just an outline, or even if you’re in the planning stages.
I have 12 blogs, each covering one or two of the problems—how to spot them, fix them, or at least divert attention away from them.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the trenches and get dirty.
Your premise isn’t compelling enough.
A weak premise, or one that is too simple or too complicated, will result in getting rejected at the query stage.
So what makes for a strong, compelling premise?
I’m sure you’ve heard of “high concept.” A high-concept plot isn’t just for movies. Every book–even a short category romance–needs a high concept. That means you can state the premise in one or two sentences, and whoever hears or reads these sentences can immediately “get” what your book is about. Furthermore, those sentences make that person nod and say, “ooooooooh.” What is it about your book that makes people say, “ooooooooh”?
Boring: A woman needs a job and goes to work as a bounty hunter. Although she is not qualified, she learns along the way and eventually brings in a dangerous felon and solves a murder.
Better: A woman desperate for employment takes a last-resort job as a bounty hunter. Her first assignment is to bring in a cop accused of murder–her ex-boyfriend, who broke her heart.
Most of you probably recognize the above two examples as describing Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum novel, ONE FOR THE MONEY. Both examples are accurate, but the second one is much more compelling, no? Especially to romance readers, for whom this book was intended.
It’s all about what you choose to highlight or emphasize.
Sometimes, the “high concept” is simply a marketable element–say, a vampire–in a new context. My friend Nancy Haddock is a very talented writer, but she struggled for years to sell her first book. Finally she did it with LA VIDA VAMPIRE–about a female vampire who just wanted to have fun, work a job, go to school and watch TV like any normal woman. Of course, the forces of evil won’t let her be. This was a new kind of vampire, and Nancy spun Francesca into a successful franchise series.
Now, look at your story. What is unique? What is marketable? How can you highlight it, both in how you tell the story, and how you pitch it? Test it out on people. Do you get the “oooooooh?” Post it to comments if you like. See what reactions you get.
If you can’t come up with a short, punchy logline, brainstorm with a group of fellow writers. That usually helps. And if that doesn’t work, my advice is to rethink your story.
Next time, we’ll talk how to fix a weak opening.