Monday, August 16, 2010

When Is Playing God in your Novel a Plotting Mistake?

You are the god of your book, you've created a world and you control the occupants therein, but you can't let your readers know that. It's sort of like the guy behind the curtain in Wizard of Oz - nobody wants to see him. And, in fact, you as the writer really don't want to expose him.

So what am I talking about here? Simple, what I'm saying is, even though you control everything that happens in your novel you don't want to risk alienating your reader; luring that reader in, capturing him or her in your web, then destroying that carefully cultivated reader's trance, causing them to feel betrayed by your obvious solution to a plot tangle or problem. When/if this happens you lose the reader - and then the reader's only hope for revenge upon you the dastardly writer is to close the book, permanently and revile your name.

So to avoid all that you must avoid taking short cuts and introducing the coincidence or handy solution, artificial device or simply injecting god.

Here's an old example:  small troop of cavalry is trapped by Indians. they're insanely outnumbered. The situation is hopeless. The hero is also the Captain of the troop, can't let him die!  So, over the hill with no plausible reason for their presence, rides an entire legion of cavalry to the rescue.

Or another:

The hero is tied to a pier support in the water, left to die with the incoming tide. Water is risiing up past his chin, slapping him in the mouth.  Along comes a boat that's just happened to snap it's moorings, swings around and it's propeller slashes the ropes freeing the hero.  Unless you're writing a parody or emulating Hitchhiker's Guide you simply can't get away with that.

So what do you do to avoid having that suspension of disbelief collapse entirely and have your reading audience slam that book shut? 

Think about your plot and what that plot is. Your plot need to emerge from the motive of your characters, what their goals and desires are, and what stands between them and their ultimate goal. What do the characters in your story have to do to overcome those obstacles and reach their goals or have their desires fulfilled? Your characters are engaged in a struggle and your readers are wrapped up in that struggle.  They aren't going to tolerate some implausible, coincidental force bursting onto the scene to save the day and accomplish what the main character couldn't on his or her own. The main character must win or lose based on the tools you the 'god' of the  novel have already provided.

You must plant the seeds to make the story plausible and hopefully meaningful. No last second cavalry to the rescue.


  1. Thank God for word processors. You can go back three chapters and slip that Swiss Army knife into the hero's pocket when you realize he's going to need it!

    Marc Vun Kannon

  2. LOL - no kidding Author Guy, word processing is the best for us writers we can save as it - make a new copy - chop it from there and revise the beginning to add what's needed!


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