Outlining Tips 3 – Plotcritical vs Plotconvenient

Perry (I believe) coined the phrase “plotconvenient” and I liked it so much I gave it a sibling. “Plotcritical”.

Plotconvenient
Plotconvenience is epitomized by the phrase, “Well, isn’t that CONVEEEEENIENT.” Often said with a scoff, rolled eyes, and possibly a sneer. (Only experienced snarkers should attempt all of these indicators of disdain at the same time. You have been warned. Perry is the only person skilled enough to encompass all of them with a single two-hands-in-the-air gesture.)

Some of my favorite stories have some AWFULLY plotconvenient moments in them. There is such a thing as happy coincidence or fate or luck.

Honestly, if you think about it hard enough, EVERY mystery solved is very plotconvenient. Much like “Mary Sue” or a dozen other literary no-no’s, this one’s more of a scale than it is a lightswitch.

As such, it becomes dratted difficult to determine when you’re writing something that’s a little TOO plotconvenient.

*Some general rules: *
* Never ever break worldbuilding to make things convenient for your story.
* Avoid plot points that HAPPEN TO your character. Instead, make plot points CAUSED BY your character.
* Limit the number of events that happen because of luck. A single chance meeting with a key secondary character is one thing, but more than that starts stretching your audience’s belief
* Deus ex Machina are, by their very nature, plot convenient. Any previously-unheard-of solution to a problem is plotconvenience at its worst.

Some recent plotconvenience I’ve rolled my eyes at:
* A god delivering key equipment to a hero to help them win the final battle
* An unexplained ability to tinker with people’s memories
* An off switch on the side of a bomb (tension-killer, much?)
* (I tried to find a non spoilery way to say this and failed. X-Men Days of Future Past is CHOCK FULL of plotconvenience)
* EVERY GORRAM TIME TRAVEL STORY IN THE HISTORY OF EVER. (not that I’m bitter. or biased.)

NOTE: It’s not plot convenience if it’s introduced as part of the ruleset!

Is it CONVEEEEENIENT that Charlotte can write words in her web? Heck yes it is. But it’s introduced to us as a special ability she can do early in the story. It’s part of the entire PREMISE of the book, and thus it neatly circumvents plotconvenience.

Plotcritical
Plotcritical events, on the other hand, are things REQUIRED for the plot to move forward and make sense. Most of the stuff we talked about in the last blog post (the one about SECRETS) are going to be plotcritical events.

You have a story about a boy who steals a dragon egg and secretly trains it to fight? Then the stealing of the egg, the events of the training, and the final fight are all plotcritical events. (That’d be the plot of Dragon’s Blood, by the way)

Your plotcritical events should be both IMPORTANT and SURPRISING.

That’s right. You need to surprise your characters. Shock them. Keep them guessing and moving (and hopefully keep the reader guessing right along with them).

Even adventures need to be surprising. You can’t have the boy warrior train to defeat the evil wizard warlord … and he trains, and then he fights and he wins. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Add some twists and turns in there for pity’s sake!

You have to look at each chapter and know, absolutely KNOW, that you couldn’t possibly cut it because something super important happened in it. Something without which your story doesn’t work.

You may have to rewrite or put that plot point somewhere else, but at least you know your chapter MATTERED. And NOT just for character development.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS NEVER PLOTCRITICAL.

It’s CHARACTER critical, and very important, but if the ONLY reason you have a chapter is for character development, you’re missing the PLOT.

Believe it or not, you can develop characters alongside plot development. Too many writers focus on character at the expense of plot.

Using These For Scenes
Every. Single. Scene. must be plotcritical.

Avoid plotconvenience like the plague it is, and EMBRACE plotcritical thinking.

If you’ve got two major plot events in your outline that are separated by three whole chapters in which you’ve got nothing planned?

Add some plotcritical events in there! Doesn’t matter if they’re B-story plotcritical or primary plot — the important thing is that you don’t have your character sitting pensively on a balcony, mulling over her day or something equally boring which doesn’t have any impact on the overall storyline.

Sound difficult? Maybe a little exhausting?

If you’re writing for the masses, you’ve got to amp it up a bit. This is the best lesson I learned while reading the first Dresden Files book.

You can slow down, but you can NEVER stop. Every chapter amps to the ending.

Question for You
What are some examples you can think of for plotconvenient stuff you’ve seen in movies, tv, or books?

4 thoughts on “Outlining Tips 3 – Plotcritical vs Plotconvenient

  1. Oh my goodness! This was exactly what finally clicked when I was plotting Princess. I always had trouble with plots, but I finally put two and two together and realized that plotcriticality was why I was struggling.

    Something important in ALL THE SCENES! Also, conflict in ALL THE SCENES! Sometimes the two are related.

    But anyway, yes. Wrapping my head around those two concepts is the reason that I feel so good about Princess, and why I’m happily chugging away, about to hit the end of Act 1…

    (Also, I’m so happy to see the writing advice/discussions back. I love hearing about everything, but I’d missed these.)

    • I’m still working on actually IMPLEMENTING this, but it’s definitely an issue with the way I write as well. *hugs*

      • We-ell….I didn’t say I was *good* at it yet, did I? I’m still working on it myself ;)

  2. Perry

    I just want you to know that I totally am up to the challenge of formulating a two arms in the air gesture to convey those emotions.

    Also? This post has been singularly helpful.

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