Problematic Plot Elements

Problematic Plot Elements

Judging by drafts I’ve critiqued lately, two commonly used plot elements automatically come with problems because they tend to be low tension. These are meetings and travel.


It can be tempting to deliver exposition by staging a meeting between characters. The meeting can be formally held around a table or casually placed at a campsite. It mostly doesn’t matter. A meeting is a meeting. How riveting do you find meetings in everyday life? Not very? Then why write them into your story?

The commonly given advice is just do something else. Have characters exchange information in some other way. Some possibilities are:

• Show us one character learning something and then jump cut to another character’s reaction to being told what happened.
• Have one of them force or coerce the information out of another. If you read detective fiction or watch crime shows on TV, you’ll see this happening over and over.
• Have the exchange take place while something else is happening that’s exciting or interesting. In other words, use a Pope in the Pool device.


Travel scenes can sometimes work. Travel often shows up in a traditional quest plot, for instance, whether that be Lord of the RingsDon Quixote, or a Jack Reacher story. In rhetoric, these plots are identified as peripatetic.

When it comes to travel scenes though, we’re more impatient than we used to be. It used to be that when, say, the Cartwright boys went to town, we got a brief scene of them riding there, and another one of them riding home. TV and movies don’t do that anymore. Rather they use jump cuts to skip over the boring part and get us to where something will happen.

In order for travel scenes to work these days, they have to include more than travel. For instance, I’m reading Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, about women spies in World Wars I and II. Three characters are traveling in France, trying to find out what happened to people they care about. Travel is often rendered in short bits, during which the character relationships develop, including two of them falling in love. That works for me.

What you can’t really do is plod along describing how the scenery changes for page after page. Readers will skip ahead or close the book.

As a general rule, stories need tension on every page. Watch out for plot elements where that’s hard to provide.

Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leaves 2016) by Dorothy A. Winsor is available in e-book and paperback. E-book only $3.99.

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Living at last somewhere other than under her father’s thumb, Myla is just starting to know her own desires. Then the prince arrives to live in the same household, and her father decides it’s the perfect chance to use Myla to put himself in charge of the Forest.

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