Friday 3 March 2017

Is There Such Thing As a Bad Plot?

Photo by Greg Westfall, used under
Creative Commons licence.
Why did they do that?

You want to throw the book across the room.

Your heroine has just put herself in danger for no reason. The hero has lost his temper over something trivial and broken up with the heroine. These characters make no sense.

You decide life is too short and turn on Netflix.

When dissecting a disappointing novel or movie, it’s easy to blame a poor story on bad plot, characterization or dialogue.

But, I suggest, these may only be symptoms of a single problem: the author was unable to convince you of ‘why’.

Why did the heroine throw herself in danger? Why did the hero really leave?

If the author can convince you that the path chosen was the only one that made sense to the character, then you aren’t going to be bothered that the heroine just jumped from a plane without a parachute. It was her only option! Her country/sense of identity/loved one/integrity was at stake.

If you believe the character’s motivations, you’re empathizing with them, and wondering whether they’ll ever reach their goal or not.

But if you’re frustrated with what seems to be a silly decision, you won’t care that the dialogue is witty or the description is poetic.

I believe there are few bad story ideas, just under-developed character motivations.

Even good books can be made great by strengthening the reasons why characters made the decisions they did.

Read the last scene you wrote. Find a decision a character made. Can you make that decision the only logical path, given the position you’ve put them in? What is at risk if they follow any other course of action? Can you increase those risks?

The more we understand why, the louder we’ll cheer as the character achieves their goal.

Jessica Kate is an Australian writer. She prefers the term 'writer' because it's too hard to say 'training developer, aspiring author and former journalist' in one mouthful.

She loves reading anything by Jenny B Jones, watching The Proposal, and writing Christian contemporary fiction full of romance and drama. 

Her manuscript, Hating Jeremy Walters, was a finalist in the 2015 Frasier Awards and she's currently working on her second novel.

 She loves connecting with reader and writers at Facebook, Instagram, and her website.


  1. Jess, hmmm ... yes, character motivation. I think there are predictable plots which may reflect an undeveloped character.

    Thought provoking post, thanks for sharing with us.

  2. I've read a few books where a character's stupid actions had me wanting to throw my Kindle against a brick wall. In one, there was an intruder outside. She calls 911 (good). The 911 operator says not to go outside (good advice). The character goes outside. Kindle, meet wall.

    But you've got me thinking. The reason I was so frustrated wasn't just that the character went outside, but that I had no idea why she went outside. There was no reason for her to go outside, no internal or external motivation (in fact, surely the external motivation would have been to stay inside!).

    It's something to think about as I work on my own stories ...

    (It's been years since I read this book, so you can tell it's still bothering me! No, I can't remember the title or author. And that's probably a good thing.)


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