The Plot Thickens by Jordan McCollum

Jordan doesn’t know I’m using her as a guest blogger here today. I got up really early to write today’s post and started by reading comments on yesterday’s posts. So I’m referencing her stuff without notifying her because I figure she’s not likely up and at her computer at 6-freaking-a.m. and I need blog content NOW!

[By the way, please send questions. I’m all out again.]

Anyway, for those of you who did not read yesterday’s comments, Jordan McCollum has a 22 part series on her blog about plotting, and The Snowflake Method is just one of the ways to plot that she reviews.

This is an amazing series. Go read the whole thing—or pick your post from the index I’ve included below.

  1. The Plot Thickens
  2. An “Organic” Story

  3. Making it up as she went along—The Winchester Mystery Story

  4. Becoming a Story Architect

  5. A Story in Three Acts

  6. The Story Question

  7. The Five Act Story Structure

  8. The Act Structure in Action

  9. Pros and Cons of the Three Act Structure

  10. A Quick Look at the Snowflake Method

  11. A 10-Step Snowflake vs a 5-Step Snowflake: Organizing a Manuscript My Way
  12. Pros and Cons of the Snowflake Method

  13. A Quick Overview of the Hero’s Journey

  14. Archetypal Characters in the Hero’s Journey

  15. Applying the Hero’s Journey

  16. The Hero (and Herione’s) Journey—Hero’s Journey in Romance

  17. Cons of the Hero’s Journey

  18. Overview of Larry Brooks’ Story Structure

  19. Story Structure in Action

  20. The Hero’s Journey with Story Structure

  21. Setting Up the Story Question

  22. The End

Romance Plot Lines

Hi, LDS Publisher!

First, thank you so much for creating this site and troubling yourself with us, the plague of novice writers. [you’re welcome] I’m happy to discover your carefully channeled expertise and only just now became one of your ‘followers.’ 🙂 [thanks. I love followers.]

But I have a question. . . I’ve been thinking about romances—any love story found in any tale. I’ve been trying to categorize them because I’m currently trying to decide what type of romance I would like to emerge in my second novel. So far, I’ve tagged four scenarios that bring about any well-known love story.

1. The man and woman are from opposing spheres/worlds
2. The love is forbidden
3. There’s someone else
4. The relationship was built on a lie

Would you suggest another scenario? Or consolidate one of the four? I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite love stories and it seems like many of the most successful emerge from the first scenario. Or, my favorite option, they combine a few of the scenarios to make a more complex story. What do you think??

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider this. I didn’t know who to bounce this off of, and then I found you! You might actually know something!! [ya think?]

I found the following at Author’s Den. It’s written by Kathye Quick. You can read the full article HERE. This is a good site with pretty good info. I’m reposting an excerpt from the article here, rather than simply linking to it, because on their site it sort of all runs together in places and is hard to read.

These are her basic romance plot lines:

  • Adventure. Your heroine goes out in search of fortune motivated by someone or something to begin the adventure and needing the hero to complete the task. (Any Indiana Jones movie).
  • Pursuit. Make sure there is real danger associated with getting caught, and in fact, your hero and heroine may even get caught or almost get caught before the end. Establish the ground rules for the chase, establish the stakes and start the race with a motivating incident. (Murder on the Orient Express)
  • Rescue. The hero, heroine and “bad guy” weave a journey of pursuit, separation, confrontation and reunion. (The Princess Bride).
  • Escape. Begin the plot with the imprisonment (of person, of mind or of concept), deal with the plans for the escape and make sure that these plans are almost upset at least one time until finally comes the escape or the liberation of the heroine’s heart. (Rapunzel)
  • Underdog. The against all odds plot. (Cinderella).
  • Temptation. This plot examines the motives, needs and impulses of human nature. The hero and heroine must learn something about themselves and why it is right for them to give in (or to not give in) into the temptation. A lot of inner turmoil, a lot of emotion in this one. (Adam and Eve).
  • Change. The change usually can only be accomplished through love. (The Frog Prince).
  • Forbidden Love. The hero and heroine defy social convention and pursue their hearts, often with dangerous results. (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Sacrifice. The sacrifice is often made at a great personal cost, often with a strong moral problem at the center of the story. Make sure the reader understands why the sacrifice must be made. (Casablanca)

[End quoted material.]

I’d also add the Beauty and the Beast category, where the man seems like a rough, boorish animal, but then we discover he’s really a prince of a guy.

I personally prefer a story that weaves together a couple of different plot lines. I find them more interesting.

What else, readers? Other romance plot lines?

Also, which is your favorite?

Taboo Topics

What subjects are “off limits” that you would not consider publishing, no matter how well written?

This is going to vary from publisher to publisher. However, in the LDS industry, there are some basic standards–for example, most are not going to publish books that celebrate or glorify lifestyle choices contrary to the doctrine of the Church. Most will not publish books that bash Church leaders or policies. Most will not publish novels with graphic sex or violence. Most will not consider books on the occult.

After that, you’re looking at individual preferences. Some won’t touch novels with polygamy in any form; others don’t mind it in historical novels. Many won’t publish “contemporary” topics (addiction, unwed pregnancy, homosexuality) in any form; others will, if it’s done tastefully and shows the consequences of poor choices.

I won’t accept anything that I think will upset or tick off the average LDS reader, even if I think it’s well written or it’s something that I personally like. For example, I received a submission a few years ago about an addict who turned their life around. I thought it was well written, had a great message, and that some LDS people would be touched by it. But I rejected it because too many people would be upset by its grittiness and I cannot afford to offend my readers. Other taboo topics at my company include homosexuality, child abuse, incest, the occult, gratuitous violence, descriptive intimacy, murder of children or real-time description of the death of children. Topics that would raise a flag, but might not be an automatic rejection are addiction, spouse abuse, infidelity, unwed pregnancy, loss of testimony.

Subplots–What’s the Magic Number?

Is there a general rule of thumb for how many subplots should be in a novel? How many are too few? Too many?

You want enough to keep your story interesting, but not so many that the reader can’t remember what’s going on with who. How’s that for a definitive answer?

I’m gonna’ go out on a limb and really commit myself here and say between two and ten. Part of it depends on how complex your main plot is; how complex the subplots; whether the subplots are needed to move the story forward (good), or if their main function is to add pages (bad); if the subplots involved the main characters or side characters; etc. etc.

Here’s my general rule–if I’m bored, it needs more complexity, which can be provided by subplots. If I have to read with a pencil and paper to keep all the characters and plots straight, then you’ve got too many.

Plot Traps

What are some of the common plot traps that you have noticed in LDS fiction that you wish authors would avoid?

I don’t know that I find any plot traps that are specific to LDS–except for the one where the bad guy/girl needs to turn good so they can marry the good girl/guy, and so the author throws in some lightweight spiritual experience and they are converted in a matter of days. I just don’t buy that–ever. (I know, I know–it happened to Alma and to Paul, but their experience involved angels. I don’t believe it in a romance book.)

The most common plot traps, or holes, in fiction, LDS or otherwise are:

  • an author sends a character off to do something and then we never see or hear from them again
  • the character arrives faster or does something faster than it would take in real life (like fly across the country in an hour)
  • creating a character that is too evil or too good, then having them change too quickly (as in example above)
  • painting their protagonist into a corner that is too hard to get out of, then having someone swoop in and save them for the sole purpose of getting them out of that situation
  • bringing in characters that have nothing to do with the story, but the author needs to add more people or more pages to the book
  • forgetting to tie up loose ends (example: Premonition movie with Sandra Bullock; the whole thing with her daughter’s face and when it gets cut, etc. That was never really explained.)
  • having a character really stress over something, then suddenly it doesn’t bother them anymore, with no explanation
  • having characters do things that it’s been set up they’re incapable of doing, or wouldn’t choose to do, without having some strong initiating factor or explanation
  • in fantasy, setting up the rules for the world your characters are living in, then breaking those rules

What are some of your favorite plot holes? Give specific examples if you want.