Evil plots designed to confound you

Dear Miss Snark,

Go ahead, call me a nitwit. (sorry, not today) I submitted to the Crap-o-meter, didn't get in, and now I think that's probably a good thing. I've been reading your comments about each of the entries and, while I've picked up some stellar tips, there's one thing I just don't get. In response to many (many, many) of the queries you chide the writers for not including an obvious plot. You tell a few entrants that they've confused query with synopsis though. Is there a magical line where plot pique-ing ends and synopsis begins? If so, where can I find it?

Thank you for all you've done (and are still doing) for clueless writers. You are amazing.


Plot requires conflict. A recitation of events that doesn't indicate conflict doesn't help me much. A long series of events is a synopsis.

Here's what you need to tell me:

My hero is:
S/he is challenged by:
S/he resolves it by doing:

Obviously you can't do it in three sentences but you have to have those elements.

Being able to reduce your work to a short summation is incredibly hard. It's also not just jumping through hoops. I've had more than one person comment on this blog that in trying to write a synopsis or a good paragraph they've realized the book needed work.

You can practice by doing a query letter for a book you like. Or if you really want to hone your craft, do it for every book you read for a month/quarter/year.

Maybe we'll have a contest on that one. I'll give you a list of 1oo books and you have to write a query for one of them. I'd probably have to limit it to books I'd read...thank goodness I have 60 odd posted on my library thing link right now.--------> over there


Linda Adams said...

<< I've had more than one person comment on this blog that in trying to write a synopsis or a good paragraph they've realized the book needed work.>>

That would be me also. We struggled a lot trying to work with the query, but it never really felt right. What we didn't know at the time was that it's darn near impossible to put together a coherent query if the story doesn't work right. After getting multiple rejections and no requests at all, we tried a critque group, and eventually got a blinding flash of the obvious: the book itself needed work. We worked really hard on fixing the story and were rewarded when the query letter just fell together (it sounds easy, but the trip there was painful).

Writerious said...

My DH, who teaches elementary school, has his kids write book reports using a "Who... Wants... But... So..." formula:

WHO is the main character?
What does the main character WANT?
BUT what gets in the way?
SO what does the main character do about it?

That serves as a pretty good vehicle to talk about plot when the kids start writing their own stories.

HawkOwl said...

Wow. Not only is that exactly what my query says, but it says it in exactly three sentences. One: this is my protagonist. Two: this is his problem. Three: this is how it's resolved. Exactly what Miss Snark wants. How lucky is that? Too bad I lost in the draw. :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe we'll have a contest on that one. I'll give you a list of 1oo books and you have to write a query for one of them.

Not yet, please, not yet! My credit card is all messed up (and after 2 months still not straightened out) so I can't buy books on-line. I live in isolationville-The one pathetic book store here carries junk (I mean that-Betty & Veronica comix, Chicken Soup for every conceivable soul in the universe, hot rod magazines). The public library is trying, but has mostly empty shelves (I went in last week and found a total of 4 YA books I hadn't read. My other choices were mysteries from Christie to Evanovich to those cat things--all read, sorry KY, and some travel books.)

Please, please wait. (December would be good!)

Well, go ahead. I realize Miss Snark has her own scheduling needs.
(Sorry for the momentary panic.)

I'll eventually catch up with reading and participate later. Another missed opportunity. Phooey.

Back to writing.

pjd said...

"I've had more than one person comment on this blog that in trying to write a synopsis or a good paragraph they've realized the book needed work."

I recommend writing the synopsis after the first draft but before the first revision. This can show up major holes and forces you to focus in on the theme(s) that resonate through the book. You may find that you've left out entire scenes that you didn't even know about. And by reviewing the entire novel to put onto three pages, you'll have to come to terms with the pacing.

Kiskadee said...

For the query I reduced my 113000 word thriller to four sentences of plot description.
Rate of requests 80%. In the first round all but one of my first choice agents(including the WMA) requested either a partial or a full. That's four fulls, four partials requested. One rejection at the query stage, one non-responder.
In the movie world they say if you can't get the plot into one sentence there's a problem with the story. Practice writing log-lines; that's what I did.

Jodi Meadows said...

Query writing contests? *glee*

I love query letters.

Anonymous said...

I'm great at character, dialog, atmosphere - but I suck at plot. Here's a question for all the snarkettes out there: do you formulate a plot before you begin writing? If not, how do you know what to write next? I've tried writing with no plot in mind, but all I get are 20 page "mood pieces."

And another question on the same theme: I've heard it said that there are really only 7 plots (falling in love, revenge, etc.) Has anyone else heard this, and what are they?

thraesja said...

I believe the seven basic plots are said to be:

1- man vs. nature
2- man vs. man
3- man vs. the environment
4- man vs. machines/technology
5- man vs. the supernatural
6- man vs. self
7- man vs. god/religion

For "man", read "human", unless you're in SF, fantasy or supernatural, in which case read "being".

Dave Kuzminski said...

I probably won't get an answer, but how do you describe a fantasy plot where the action is geared toward one resolution when an action occurs (that's meant to in the story) in the middle of the story that places the character into a totally new role with completely different obstacles and goals?

HawkOwl said...

Dave: I'd probably call it "plot manipulation" unless it's really well done and there's actually a reason for it besides making the story longer.

clarice snarkling said...

anon above - I have struggled with plot throughout my writing life, too. I think I spent about 10 years writing mood pieces and "series of events" pieces before I really got into building conflicts. Someone on a comments thread in the last couple weeks said that plot is what naturally happens when you put two characters with opposite agendas in the same room. I've kept that in my head lately as I've been writing short stories.

I also spend some of my idle time at work creating "what if...?" scenarios. What if the receptionist was actually a government spy? What if I walked across the street for lunch and just kept going? I may not ever write those stories, but they've got the germ of a plot to them.

There's a Writer's Digest book I got a number of years ago called 20 Master Plots (And How To Build Them). It's my favorite WD book of the ones I've read, and it's been pretty helpful in reminding me of possible struggles in which I could toss my characters.

Termagant 2 said...

Dave, I'd call it a 2 book series. SF is usually too long anyway.