1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    WANTED: advice on plot element flowing naturally from story

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Steerpike, Jan 8, 2019.

    Hi all:

    I recently submitted a fantasy short story to a pro-level market. I got a personal rejection with some nice words about my writing, asking me to submit other stories to them in the future. I also received some specific feedback as to why the editor rejected the story.

    Here's a short version of the tale: Two sisters, with diametrically opposed worldviews, are in a position to change the course of their society. They couldn't disagree more about which direction things should go. Sister A is determined to conduct a supernatural ritual that will help push things in the direction she wants (this is Fantasy, after all). Sister B is an anxious, passive sort. She has a hard time opposing her sister face to face and looks for other ways to do it. Part of the set up for the supernatural ritual involves advice from a sort of Wise Woman (though a rather sinister one at times). Just before Sister A is to perform her ritual, Sister B goes back to the Wise Woman for help stopping her sister. The Wise Woman is convinced, and gives Sister B something to make Sister A sick, but do no permanent harm. The window for the ritual is short, so if Sister A is sick it will be at least a year before she can try again.

    As I wrote the story, everything from beginning to end flowed naturally except the part where Sister B goes to get the herbs to make her sister sick. I put that in 1) because I needed to show Sister B taking a somewhat drastic step to try to stop her sister; and 2) because the mild "poisoning" of Sister A goes wrong and puts them both in danger, forcing Sister B to act contrary to her own desires to save Sister A at the end.

    The editor liked everything about the story except that the poisoning part seemed "contrived." I'm sure it seemed that way because it was contrived.

    I have three options at this point, as I see it:

    1) get rid of the poisoning altogether and come up with an alternative final attempt by Sister B to stop Sister A. It can be anything, as long as it goes awry and puts Sister A in danger, forcing Sister B to save her;

    2) rewrite the story and try to make the poisoning seem more organic and natural, rather than something I added in to a later draft of the story to accomplish the story goals above (with the caveat that I've tried once to do this already, and clearly need to do more);

    3) burn down the house, which contains my computer and all hard copies of the story.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Solar

    Solar Banned Contributor

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    Just a quick brainstorm:

    It would probably seem more organic if Sister B was a herbalist of some sort (perhaps an apprentice?) and so she
    doesn't need to consult anyone. But her inexperience leads her to get the dosage wrong (or something) and she has
    a race against time to solve the problem. You could introduce the idea of her being a herbalist early on; it would be
    a core part of her character, a core part of the story. One sister relies on supernatural powers while the other relies
    on natural powers.

    Like I said, this is just a brainstorm. It may not be suitable for your vision of the story.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Oh, I quite like this. Having her go back to meet the Wise Woman, and having the Wise Woman agree to help her, is certainly part of what makes the plot element seem strained. If I set her up earlier as a student of this woman, or another herbalist, that could resolve that and explain why she screws up like she does. It'll also allow me to lose the entire scene where she meets with the Wise Woman again, and I'm just barely under the word count limit for a lot of the markets I'm targeting.

    Thank you for this.
     
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  4. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Supporter Contributor

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    I usually think of this in terms of planting seeds. You want to plant your seeds early so that they will grow in time. Put your characters into the right circumstances where they will make these decisions, and develop them so that it’s clear that those are the decisions that they will make. Maybe one of the sisters is jealous for example. Maybe she has thoughts along the lines of “if only I could make her do what I want.” Adding in references to stuff like that early on will establish a foundation for what later happens; you’ll know best what your characters are thinking, so it could be any number of things. Including the witch manipulating her to do it, which is kind of the Shakespearean angle, thinking about both Othello and Macbeth.
     
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  5. Intangible Girl

    Intangible Girl Senior Member

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    Sister B sounds passive aggressive to me, as opposed to her more actively aggressive sister, so make sure that character trait is established early.
     
  6. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Re-write 'the poisoning' scene so as your heart rushes as you approach the reading of it, only a polish. Submit somewhere else.
     
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  7. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    My first instinct it to recommend option 3 and bring beer and marshmallows to show my support. But story wise, I would think that poisoning someone, even temporary poisoning, isn't really something you'd do to a sibling, and most definitely wasn't the first thing that came to my mind. Coincidentally, first drastic thing I would probably resort to is fire. Burn the books, burn the ritual site. No one gets hurt, but the ritual can't take place, but has a lot of potential to go wrong. Anything from forest fires to carbon monoxide poisoning. That's my opinion, anyway.
     
  8. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    A poison doesn't have to do anything but incapacitate one of the sisters. Many foods have natural laxative effects and if it is a food that the sister really likes (such as peanuts in my case) that would leave her incapacitated.
     
  9. Thomas Larmore

    Thomas Larmore Member

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    I'm not sure what it is, but the story seems a bit off. You haven't really explained what Sister A is up to, the point of the ritual, how it changes the world. If we knew more what was at stake, the story would make more sense.
     
  10. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    You could have your sister B hire people to attack sister A but specify just knock her out. But they hit her too hard and she gets a brain injury. Sister B is pissed that they hurt sister A too much and this causes a rift between her and the people she hired which in turn becomes a feud because Sister B insults the leader and they take offence and try to retaliate because they can't be made to look weak or subservient to anyone.
     

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