Thursday, August 5, 2010

When Your Plot Becomes Too Much

Romances are about relationships. The central focus is on watching the hero and the heroine get together and over-come all of the obstacles in their way.

Women's fiction is about the female journey. It is an exploration into the female psyche to allow readers a chance to understand their own lives.

I bring these two points up because with both of these genres, the goal can be lost if the emphasis on the plot is too extreme. If a writers focuses too much on the action and the things that happen around the characters, the goal is lost.

I listened to several authors in Orlando that did just that. I read it in submissions on a daily basis. If, when you tell someone about your book, you focus primarily on the plot elements of the story "and then they, and then they, then this happens..." there is a pretty good bet that the story is now plot driven and the relationship or character focus has taken a back seat.

Please note that I am not saying a story can be without action and movement. In fact, it should be present. But it cannot be the driving force.

This is a problem that really happens in a lot of different genres. In historical, if the writer is obessessed with the research, the story is lost. In paranormal, fantasy, futuristic, sci-fi and urban fantasy, if the world building is so extreme, the relationship is lost. And of course with mystery, suspense and thriller, if the case becomes more important, then the relationship becomes lost.

The key is to determine going in what your story is about. If you want to make it a straight thriller or suspense story then go for it. Move that romance to a secondary line and run with it. But reverse it if the romance is key.

I am reading an inspirational right now where it is about the inspiration and seems to be missing the romance. I am 3/4 of the way through the book and there has never once been any mention of a change in how the characters view each other. Heck, I'm not even seeing an element of "wow, I didn't see that in him before." In this case, the writer, I believe, focused so much on the inspirational message (it was about forgiveness of those that left and then returned in bad shape), that the relationship is gone. At this point, I would almost feel as if adding a relationship now and suddenly they want to get married would be a bolt out of the blue. It would almost be as if the hero and heroine decided to get married after they met each other in chapter 1. It just doesn't work.

So, what is the focus of your story? Is it up front for all to see, or have you shuffle it to the back.



  1. hey Scott,
    What a great explanation. I'm in the middle of a 3rd draft and you've just given me a tool that will be invaluable.
    ps... twice rejected is helping me improve!

  2. Thank you for the clear explanation of how romance and women's fiction differ from each other, and how romance has to focus on the growing relationship between the hero and heroine.

    I write inspirational romance and originally found it challenging not to let the inspirational thread fade too much in the background. It's good to know it can be too much in the foreground too.

  3. Thank you for the brilliant explanation. I need to be careful not to let the action take over my story and keep the romance as the central plot.
    There's so much to think about in writing!
    Thanks for your constant help :)

  4. A delightful post for a character-driven women's fiction novelist to read. I want to save this one.

  5. I'm really trying to understand all this. Grabbing at the movie "Under The Tuscan Sun," it seems to me that there was one heck of a lot of "action" going on in that movie, and so plot-driven still it seems to me.
    Are we talking about the way the lead character (Lane) reacts to all of this action?
    "What it takes to be a woman?"
    I have no idea. Every woman seems different to me. "What it takes to be a man?"
    Taking action instead of just reacting to the events in play?
    You've boggled me entirely on this well-intended attempt to explain what constitutes women's fiction.
    All I can come up with is that Lane's reactions to events became the focus of the story.
    I suppose you could say she bought the villa hoping it would become an entire life for her. Which it did. But primarily because of the actions of other people, after that initial stab on her part. Shec still seems acted-upon, rather than actively creating her own life.Even the trip to Italy was pushed on her by other people.

  6. I've just discovered your blog. Good explanation of romance being about relationship and WF being about the female journey.

    I'm afraid I'm losing my focus in my rewrites. Sometimes I just want to put my hands over my ears and eyes and shut out all the advice and critiques and explanations ... and just write. MY WAY. The way I used to.

    My book started out as an inspirational romance with some mystery. Now, I'm totally rewriting it to pull out the Christian message and beefing up the mystery. I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I can't even remember why I thought that was a good idea. I really don't know how to find out if I'm doing the right thing. Maybe it's time for me to put this one away and go to something different. Except I really have a passion for this book. I just don't know . . .

  7. I am looking for this topic for over a week now. I really want to know more about this topic. I will be visiting this blog more often.

  8. Anon,

    Your question about Under The Tuscan Sun is interesting. I should have mentioned the book, not the movie. When the directors got together apparently they felt the magic of the book wasn't good enough so they really stirred things up, added things that didn't happen, eliminated the fact that she was married going into this, and so forth. Still, with that said, I think the thing to consider is that most of the "action" that takes place in either the book or the movie is symbolic. The breaking down of the huge wall in the middle of the house, the finding of the mural, the old man she sees daily. All of these give her something to think about in terms of her own life.

    If you haven't read the book, do so. It is MUCH BETTER!


  9. Thank you. It may have been an ill-considered move to use the movie as an example. I read the reviews on Amamzon of UTTS after seeing the movie, and decided I would not care for the book. But going into the movie unaware, I truly loved it, and have rented it over n' over in order to study the way the story unfolds, and target precisely why it worked so well for me.
    The primary reason is of course that everyone winds up paired-off, in love, and with monogamous males, a resolution dear to female hearts. (Thank you evolution) But it is also that Lane is such a wonderful comic actress, and most of all the absolutely sweet subplot concerning the displaced Polish workers, and the sub-sub plot about the two kids finding love against all obstacles.
    Now THAT is as excellent way to study the relevance of the subplot, and the SSP, to the main story. They all echoed & complimented each other so beautifully.
    At the end ofv the day, the movie left me feeling happy about the human condition, and possibilities of life.
    It has helped me greatly with my own plotting.
    That said, I will now read the book, if you recommend it. I still suspect that so much of women's fiction has to do with women reacting to events, rather than taking male action to create a new life, but I will keep an open mind on this topic.