Archive for the 'Plot Coupons' Category

Apr 29 2010

Examining Your Story

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

  • In your first few paragraphs, do we learn anything interesting (particularly about the main character or critical elements of the setting) that will make us want to keep reading? Is it something that differentiates him from other protagonists in similar stories? If not, it is probably not very interesting. For example, telling us that Johnny goes to school blurs your book with roughly a bajillion others. Telling us that Johnny goes to a school for reformed pyromaniacs does a much better job of differentiating the book from its competitors.
  • In the first few pages, how do your characters and writing make themselves stand out? (As opposed to, say, just another picked-on student that becomes Spiderman a superhero).  For example, Kickass starts off with a bit of dark comedy.  On the first page, we see a superhero about to fly and we’re led to believe it’s the protagonist taking a bold step towards a glorious future.  Instead, the guy hits the pavement and the main character adds something like: “That’s not me, by the way.  That was a guy with a history of mental illnesses.”  Right away, you know we’re NOT talking about another Spiderman series.
  • Okay, so starting with a wannabe superhero accidentally committing hara-kiri probably wouldn’t fit your book.   What’s something you could do to launch your story with something truly distinct to it?  (HINT:  Unless the character’s morning routine involves something truly bizarre and interesting, DO NOT START WITH A CHARACTER WAKING UP).  One way to differentiate yourself is to freshen familiar material by using an unexpected tone or putting it towards a different goal.  For example, the comic I’m working on is hardly the first to open with the protagonist narrowly avoiding an assassination.  But it’s probably the first to do so for comedic purposes.
  • On page 100, does anything interesting happen?  What about page 212?  Don’t let your book stall in the middle.  Keep developing characters, adding plot wrinkles, unexpected complications, etc.  On page 230, is anything at stake?  Do characters pursue their goals with the same (or greater) intensity as on page 1?
  • One thing I see often is that the author successfully sets up the hero’s journey in an interesting way but then the journey itself is sort of bland.  Plot coupons are probably the most common problem there.  (The heroes must collect __ pieces of ____ to do _____, like destroy 7 Horcruxes to defeat Voldemort or collect 8 badges to become a Pokemon master).  Using plot coupons makes sense in a video game, sort of, but it tends to weaken suspense by making the plot predictable.  For one thing, it’s pretty much 100% guaranteed that the heroes will destroy the first six Horcruxes because the plot would break if they didn’t.  To some extent, you can generate suspense along the way to destroy the first six Horcruxes, like leaving readers asking which minor characters will die or who will get romantically involved, and kickass execution has saved many poor concepts before, but it is almost assuredly not the best concept you can come up with.

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