The plot may not be the most important part of the story. A plot cannot exist without characters. There are novels that meander so that the reader has a hard time unearthing the conflict. But, if this novel has interesting characters, some parts of it are still enjoyable. The same thing is true for rich descriptive passages. Poems may not have a plot, and yet I enjoy them for the imagery, especially the juxtaposition of normally conflicting ideas.
However, plots are still important. What are some plot problems that make me cringe the most?
1) Repeating clichés
The first page is an exciting introduction and I continue to read until I realize that I’ve seen this all before, multiple times. To be true, there is nothing new under the sun. The plot that I am using has been used before. However, if it has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning, the reader will start yawning. They have read it so often that it has no effect on them.
2) Using plot armor
The protagonist is in really deep trouble. How is he going to get out of this fix? By magic… and the story is not even a fantasy. He will survive impossible odds simply because he has to. He is the hero. I need to carefully consider the logic of each action that my main character takes. If I cannot figure out a believable way to get him out of a particular problem, I should not put him into it.
3) Telling the story without creating scenes
Whether I plot the entire story beforehand or do this as I write, I need to consider constructing scenes in which the actions occur. Each scene should take place in a specific location and within a limited time. Each one has a distinct beginning and end. Otherwise, the story will keep rolling on without breaks. I can intersperse expositions between the scenes and often do this at the beginning of a chapter. But, I better be saying something important to the plot when I do this.
4) Characters who flip back and forth
This may sound like character development because people in your story should change. However, there must be reasons for a character to turn from one side to the other beyond adding interest to a dragging plot. I should be aware of the temptation to change a major character from the right side to the wrong side to pick up the pace. One change of heart is good, if that is the major point of the story. It requires immensely more skill as a writer to get by with doing this multiple times with the same character.
5) Too much or too little action
There is a wide range of actions that work. The more poetic your words are, the less action you need. However, there must be a conflict and the main characters need to struggle to overcome this problem; even if it kills them (as in a tragedy). On the other hand, if I repeatedly use similar events (such as surprise attacks) in which the protagonist wins by the same strategies this gets very repetitive. I need to plan arcs in the action, so that the novel goes through a few cycles of rising and falling action.
A good plot makes a hefty contribution towards crafting a novel worth reading. If I am not aware of my shortcomings with plot development, I may end up with a novel not worth the reader’s time.