Winning and Fruitless Plot Devices

A good book, regardless of its age group, genre, or unique storyline boils down to one key element: anticipation. The process of watching a tale unfold sets up suspense and keeps the pages turning.

But creating anticipation is more than just promising suspense; it’s a clever dance of plot points that tantalize and devices to convey the tone, mood, and morals of your story. Many plot devices work across the board, and others don’t work at all. Let’s cover a few, starting with two winning ones.

THE CLOCK

“We’re Running Out of Time!”

Your main character has a diagnosis of one month to live. The building containing the buried treasure is scheduled for demolition in 24 hours. A gun, a ransom, and a senator’s son support a desperate man’s need to raise one million dollars to pay off a drug lord and save the life of his own kids.

A ticking clock is a well-used tactic in literature, and for good reason. It’s effective at building urgency, fostering tension, and bringing conflict. Although you may need to use your strong writing voice to shelter the “clock” from reading as cliche, it’s a widely useful tool.

THE OTHER SHOE

“Okay, but when is the other shoe going to drop?”

This is the point in a story when one or more of your characters has a moment of realization, revealing the missing piece of a puzzle that ties the story together.

Sometimes it’s exposed through the antagonist’s monolog, sometimes through a seemingly insignificant clue that triggers a memory of the main character.

No matter the vehicle for conveying the information, introducing this tactic properly can lead to a “No way!” moment that your reader will clamor to tell their friends about. Just be wise; set up the “other shoe drop” correctly and don’t use it too often or you’ll dilute the effect.

Now, what about two plot devices to avoid…

THE IMPOSSIBLE TWIST

“Well, that would never happen.”

Yes, it’s a lot of pressure to tie your entire story into one neat package, from character arcs to subplots to unanswered clues. Satisfying the reader in an unpredictable yet inevitable resolution is hard. It’s why many great stories fall short at the end and why many manuscripts lack depth.

But the need is perfectly appropriate ending that satisfies without shortcuts remains. And no matter the difficulty of tying everything together, the “impossible twist” is an easy way out and cheapens the work as a whole.

WITHHOLDING DETAIL

“Wait. What’s going on now?”

If you’re under the impression that withholding clarifying information is a tool that will help you sound more “literary,” then you need to learn more about structuring a plot. Peppering in vital information about the story in a time-appropriate manner is good, but when you deny your reader illuminating knowledge for the sake of sounding better on the page, you’re not doing anyone any favors.

It’s an amateur move because it looks like you don’t know what your story is about, and you expect the reader to gather the clues you’ve unintentionally left on the page to form their own conclusion.

Instead, determine what information is vital to drive the story along. What will advance the characters toward or away from their goal? What is the struggle between the opposing characters? What will advance the story, and what info can be released later for maximum intrigue? It’s one thing to strategically place information, and another to exclude it altogether.

Yes, swing for the fence. Yes, get in over your head with an epic climax. Yes, you can bring it all together without deteriorating your trust with a reader by taking the easy way out. It might take seven drafts and four plot reconstructions, but it’s worth it.

To Your Success;
Myra Fiacco
Owner/Acquisitions Editor

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