Monday Advice from Editors and Agents: Is Your Plot Contrived?

Larry BrooksToday’s advice comes from Larry Brooks, a critically-acclaimed bestselling author of four psychological thrillers, in addition to his work as a freelance writer and writing instructor (he also pitched for the Texas Rangers, among other careers). His new book, Story Engineering: Mastering The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, was released in early 2011 from Writers Digest Books, based on the idea behind his writing workshops. And the March/April issue of Writers Digest Magazine features an article (on page 60) by Brooks on writing subplots.

I have Brooks’ blog, StoryFix, delivered to my email inbox. I save almost every post. His blog, like his book and his workshop, is about getting real with your writing dream.


What does that mean? Well, among other things, it means admitting you have to put a lot of thought and planning into a book. It also means you need to understand the craft of writing—something that doesn’t happen overnight. Every one of my published author friends still buys how-to-write books; they still go to workshops and conferences to learn more about the craft and business of writing.

As it applies to your writing, “getting real” means staying within the bounds of reader credibility. No, that doesn’t mean you can’t write fantasy or science fiction, but it does mean that you can’t have sticky plot problems resolved by coincidence. Brooks addresses this in his November 7, 2012, post, “When Bad Ideas Sabotage Killer Concepts.”

“Fiction often demands more MORE CREDIBILITY THAN REAL LIFE.” Larry Brooks

Brooks gives several examples of taking the easy way out of plot problems.

  • A girl who wants to know more about her past gets a dream visit from her dead grandmother (and this isn’t a paranormal story)
  • The police won’t listen to a teen who thinks a city official is a criminal, so the teen hacks into the police data base.

According to Brooks, “Dreams and computer hackers are everywhere in stories that get rejected.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????????Well, maybe not everywhere. But his point is that if you give your hero the gift of a solution he or she hasn’t really earned with hard work and maybe a bit of soul-searching, that solution is counterfeit. A cheat.  A con.

He has some special words for writers of YA fiction whose plots have teens outsmarting every adult, including police and CIA, and winning every hand-to-hand fight with trained killers. Whether you call such unlikely success lucky or a gift from God, your readers will probably label it ridiculous or impossible. Contrived. According to Brooks, it’s almost always a deal killer.

In other words, you have to work as hard as your hero to make plot solutions happen naturally.


Is Brooks right? Is it ever OK to have coincidences in a plot? Can you think of some famous stories that are based around coincidence?

About Donna Maloy, Author

Captivating romantic suspense. History, mystery, and sometimes... a little touch of fantasy.
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