1. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,535

    What happens when your plot/characters are not strong?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mckk, Jan 10, 2013.

    So, I've been told (including a senior editor from a small publisher) that my writing is good, great. I've also been told my characters are likeable, great. These people have read between 1-3 chapters. (nobody has read the entire novel yet)

    But repeatedly reports have come back that people don't really "get" the story right from the beginning, they feel a little lost, they don't feel hooked at all. They like it on all accounts, but nothing hooks them. They like my MC and relate well to other side characters, but don't seem to actually CARE about them (esp MC).

    I've read my novel through about 3 times now - while I care about my MC (I would, I'm the writer), I can confirm that something's missing.

    Somehow, it lacks this "spark". And I don't know what it is, or how to fix it. Someone said to focus on making my characters really personable, which is good enough advice - but how?

    Heeeeeelp!
     
  2. Talmay
    Offline

    Talmay Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2013
    Messages:
    94
    Likes Received:
    1
    Writing exercises, mostly. Try scourging the Internet for themed prompts to practice with. If you think the MC's missing something than, yes, he probably is. My own characters don't come to life until I start writing, before that they're just hollow husks dressed up to look like people. A background, a personality, an appearance -- but not that essential spark. I don't really know them until I begin the first draft and just write whatever comes to mind, when they begin to take on natural voices and mannerisms.
     
  3. BallerGamer
    Offline

    BallerGamer Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2010
    Messages:
    165
    Likes Received:
    1
    Sol Stein is a man of much wisdom but one of my favorite dimes from him is make your characters want something early on. Even something small like getting up to grab a glass of water. Nothing drives characterization more than constantly having your characters "want" something. That alone springs up a boat load of implications; it portrays the desires of your characters, and what they're willing to do to achieve that. And then there's always the twist of having something interfere with that want.

    That may be what your story is missing.
     
  4. NigeTheHat
    Offline

    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2008
    Messages:
    764
    Likes Received:
    581
    Location:
    London
    The best hooks are things left unresolved. What are you leaving your readers anticipating in the first three chapters? If the answer's 'not much', your readers don't have much reason to want to continue.

    We care about characters we see ourselves (or the person we want to be) in, and that we can empathise with. What have you done to make your reader empathise with the MC at the moment? It's hard to give much concrete advice without seeing your book, but I'd be happy to take a look at the first few chapters if you think it'll do any good.
     
  5. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,535
    Talmay - my novel is finished, so it's not because I haven't written my characters. Thanks for the suggestion of writing exercises :)

    BallaGamer - you might be right. Well, essentially my opening is a little bit of a mess. I have my opening scene, and it hooks readers, that is great. Problem: my opening scene is not about my MC but about a side character who doesn't return for several chapters. This opening scene is of a city under attack and Loretta loses her daughter and runs back into the city to find her. Jonas, her partner and the city's priest, decides not to follow her in (where the monsters are) and decides to go to the woods to help the escaped survivors, because he's the leader of the city as the priest and feels that it's his duty. Chapter ends up Loretta dead, her daughter's fate unknown, and Jonas going to the woods, and a brief intro to my main villain where you find out that my villain is looking for someone.

    Second chapter opens - and AGAIN it's not my MC. It's another side character wanting vegetables but there're none to be had. She gets attacked and my MC comes now, and rescues her. Girl's house has been broken into and chapter ends with the girl going to a friend's all panicked and my MC going to investigate. Next chapter is of my MC getting attacked by a demon.

    As you can see - it jumps around. In my opinion, they all certainly have something that they WANT already - so I'm not seeing where the LACK of connection comes from :(

    Niel - thanks for your comment - read above for the chapter summaries. And yes please I'll be glad to send you my first three chapters :D Sending it now. Thank you!
     
  6. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    It's difficult to know exactly what is the problem without seeing it. If you want, I'd be happy to have a look and tell you my impression.
    But generally speaking, I get the same problem when the writer doesn't state a clear goal right away. This is why starting in the middle of action really helps most of us. Another thing, this concerns the characters, you have to give us the dirt on them immediately. Are they hangover, or being sued, or checking into a motel because wife kicked them out, it needs to make the reader unsure whether they like the character, but it needs to intrigue enough to give the feeling that they must turn the page and see what happens next.
    The best way is to choose a few of your favourite novels and see how the writer dealt with the opening chapters.
    Just to also mention, the timeline in the first 3 chapters needs to be extremely tight, probably all in the same day. That way, the reader is glued, knows the gist of it and has a milion and one question, which you can then slow down to answer after ch4.

    ps. Having read the above comment, I think the main problem is that you don't focus on your MC in the opening. Prologue is fine, to illustrate someone else, perhaps Loretta dying trying to save her daughter, but then you must be right back with your MC for first 3 chapters and use him to anchor the story.
     
  7. idle
    Offline

    idle Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    one of the hearts of Europe
    I suspect it's the jumping around that does it. Maybe the readers aren't sure at first who is the MC, who to care about most. Maybe you get them hooked for a moment, but when they realize it was just a side character, they might feel a little disappointed.
     
  8. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,535
    I do think you have a point, although I'm not sure how to fix it...
     
  9. Carthonn
    Offline

    Carthonn Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2008
    Messages:
    407
    Likes Received:
    32
    Kurt Vonnegut mentions the very same thing. Personally, I don't spend chapters revealing that. I reveal that in the first few pages.
     
  10. SuperVenom
    Offline

    SuperVenom Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    478
    Likes Received:
    72
    Location:
    South Wales
    Could you start out with the main character just potching (for want of a better word), then weave the initial first appearance character in to their scene and then allow the reader to follow him as a whats he up to kinda mind set. So you are kinda keeping the MC in the background but not really pushed to the front at first.
     
  11. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,685
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    The fact that your story opens with a character who is not the MC is not, in and of itself, a problem. But keep in mind that the reader will start out thinking (s)he is important to the story. I think there are two things you should probably do - one is to hint to the reader of the existence of the MC, so that by the time the reader meets him/her, it will feel like a significant event. The other is that the initial character needs to remain connected to the story or else effectively eliminated (e.g. killed); (s)he shouldn't simply drop out.
     
  12. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,383
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I read somewhere you should introduce your mc within the first three hundred words - it could be taking too long
    to get to your mc. And if she has the most powerful/emotional storyline, frequent cutting away from her could
    be squelshing the emotional impact of her scenes - especially if they're handled wrong. Whenever I find that
    I'm straying too far from my mc with too many side characters - I ditch a couple of them and give the scenes to the mc
    or include the mc in their scenes.
     
  13. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,728
    Likes Received:
    4,826
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    You could try adding a chapter at the beginning, before the first chapter you currently have, that introduces your MC and makes clear that she is the MC. Make this chapter show what motivates her. Then continue with what you already have, knowing that the reader knows in advance that the characters in the chapters you've already written are side characters. This might keep the readers reading.

    Alternatively, you could cut the first couple of chapters and start with the first chapter you already have that features your MC, and include the material of the first couple of chapters in condenses, flashback form.

    It just sounds like your beginning is confused, because readers don't know who the MC is, and therefore makes wrong assumptions about the characters you feature in your first chapters. Just make it absolutely clear in the first chapter who your MC is. That will go a long way towards straightening things out.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Before you start fixing it, make sure you understnd what the problem is. It sounds like you're just taking a stab in the dark. Maybe it is a lack of depth or variety in your characters. But it could as easily be that you aren't modulating the pace. Or it could be you aren't maintaining tension. It could be lifeless dialogue. Etc...

    The point is, make sure you know what needs fixing before you break out the power tools and duct tape.
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Before you start fixing it, make sure you understnd what the problem is. It sounds like you're just taking a stab in the dark. Maybe it is a lack of depth or variety in your characters. But it could as easily be that you aren't modulating the pace. Or it could be you aren't maintaining tension. It could be lifeless dialogue. Etc...

    The point is, make sure you know what needs fixing before you break out the power tools and duct tape.
     
  16. live2write
    Offline

    live2write Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2012
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    53
    To tell you the truth I had to write over 5 different beginnings and over 100+ storyboards to get it at least 88% the way I want it to be. Always always always read and have somebody read it. One chapter is never enough, always write three. Typically if a character is not strong enough because of XYZ then I end up either rewriting the scene, scrapping the character or rebuilding the character. If it is the plot, I always try to have a plan B. Almost like a create your own adventure books I have options where I can go through door A, if that gives me a brick wall then I go through door B.

    It could also be how you write the story, your voice, your words and the readers interpretation of the story. One tip that helps ALOT is to act out your writings or even better have somebody read it and act the part. I have tried this with a couple of my friends and it solved a lot of problems of starting the story and what to add and remove.
     
  17. SilverWolf0101
    Offline

    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New York State
    Maybe asking the people who review it what they think the problem is will help you find a solution. I've seen a lot of books where they don't introduce you to the main character right away, and they're still successful. So it might not be that at all.
    Ask the editors/publishers, or post some of the work in the review section and see what people think. Maybe with a little team work and feed back you'll find a solution.
     
  18. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,535
    live2write - I love the idea of acting it out! I'm not really sure I have willing volunteers for that though, I'll have a dig around. Unfortunately what you said about plan A, plan B cannot apply to me anymore - the MS has been written, I have the full story. As much as a few events can certainly change to help the story along, the majority of it is set in stone.

    SilverWolf - Yes, I agree totally that right now I need lots of feedback - however, I don't wanna post any of it onto the workshop. I'm looking for individuals whom I can email my work to. I intend on publishing this book and so I don't want even a little bit of it online - because what if it turns out what I posted was perfectly fine and I decide to keep it in the MS? I don't wanna be forced to change it radically so that it could be considered a "new" piece for publication, esp if it does not need much changing.

    The reason why I think a lack of focus on the MC might be the problem is this: the number of POVs in the Prologue = 4 with 4 characters, and the number of POVs in Chapter 1 = 2, where 3 characters are introduced, and only the LAST of whom is my MC. By the end of this chapter, I found that people have connected well with both of my side characters - one in the prologue and one in Chapter 1 - but my MC hasn't really been noticed.

    Ed - yeah, that's also one of the things, both of the side characters whom the readers have connected with just sorta drop out of the air.... :\ They do come back later briefly, but they disappear for several chapters. And then die. Hahaha

    Peachalulu - The side characters unfortunately can't be ditched because they participate in other sub-plots, and there isn't really another opportunity at which to introduce them. This is why I am so confused - I know I must introduce this whole cast of characters and I can't seem to find the right moment to bring them out...

    Minstrel - Unfortunately cutting or adding chapters isn't really a possibility. I've already ended up with a prologue that I hadn't planned (in which my MC does NOT feature). MC appears in Chapter 1 already, it's just I happen to open with a side character and the chapter follows her for like 80% of the time. It ends with a clear indication that someone or something has broken into the girl's house, and my MC sends her away to safety and goes to investigate himself. So cutting a chapter isn't really needed. I have considered ditching the prologue, but it sets up the world really well in really good action, and it's directly relevant to the plot and even hints at my villain - it's a good prologue - so it's being kept. It won't make sense to put anything else before this prologue because the point is - the reason why it became a prologue (as it was originally chapter 1) is that it completely does NOT connect with the chapter that introduced my MC. The prologue is a complete stand-alone scene and the side character there returns in like, chapter 15 to continue with the subplot.
     
  19. SilverWolf0101
    Offline

    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New York State
    I think I would have to see the chapters in question, and perhaps the whole piece, to give further feedback on ways to help you address this problem. I'm willing to look at it and see what I think if you're up to the help?
     

Share This Page