Shelley Widhalm

The Plot-Sentence Question

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 18, 2011 at 7:00 am

Is it plot or the sentence that’s the problem?

Beginning writers can have pretty sentences that go nowhere, or they can have plot without the other elements of good writing.

That’s what young adult author Brenna Yovanoff, who visited the Loveland Public Library last week, has found to be the case from her multiple years of experience writing short stories and publishing two novels, including her New York Times bestseller “The Replacement.”

I have to agree.

My first attempts at writing had the adornment of store windows decorated for the holidays, sparkly, colorful and attention grabbing. But they lacked the building holding the windows in place.

What I wrote had a scantily clad plot, without setting and character development to color my created world with people, places and things.

Everything I did was an attempt without story. My characters acted but without the goal that drives them through each scene until they overcome some obstacle to get what they want or realize that they didn’t want, but learning something even better along the way.

I had to do a lot of research – I read books and magazine articles about the writing process – to understand the structure that holds stories together.

This structure encompasses the plotline from beginning to end with the arising conflicts, whether inner or outer, and tension between characters or forces serving as the scaffolding. Otherwise the plotline would be flat moving from Point A to B to C and on and on.

I didn’t understand what some would call formula, but what I now know is elemental to writing a novel.

Plot is what gets readers turning the page, escalating their desire to find out what happens until the last page. Sentences and how they are written, or an author’s style and voice, is what gives writing individuality, so that no other writer can tell a story just how you, the writer, has to. Pretty sentences and all.

  1. OMG, what a coincidence that I found your post through the ‘writing’ tag.

    I’m reading STORY ENGINEERING by Larry Brooks at the moment. It is a complete guide for mastering structure in your novel. It’s the best fiction-writing guide I’ve ever read — by far. So in depth, yet so simple to grasp. You should definitely try it!

  2. I totally agree with you. About 11 years ago I started my first book. I was so anxious to finish it that I forced it. When I got to the end I was not excited about my attempt. I simply had a book that was finished that lacked the proper plot for even its creator to believe in it. I have recently torn it apart and resurrected it from its first version. I separated it into two possible books and threw out the first plot completely. I was able to finish it in October of this year and am now very happy with where it goes. I have just finished edits and passed it on to my beta readers for hopefully some good reviews mixed in with some helpful criticisms. Then I am going to travel the publishing road to see if I can get it published. Plot, it’s a love/hate relationship sometimes.

  3. “My first attempts at writing had the adornment of store windows decorated for the holidays, sparkly, colorful and attention grabbing. But they lacked the building holding the windows in place.” = a pretty sentence that got yr point across, a balance i’m still striving toward in my writing. Cn’t wait to meet and dissect “Fleur”!

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