Stories Promise; Plots Deliver.

Lots of readers have been swept away by fascinating characters, or intriguing situations, or steamy tension that allows them to step out of their lives or relive past loves, only to find that they didn’t actually like the book.  In short, it fails to satisfy them the way a good novel should.  Why? The reason is simple: There is no plot.

With ubiquitous word processing software creating a Mount Everest of manuscripts from would-be authors, and time pressured agents and editors making decisions on whether to promote a novel based on the first five pages, the plot – that crucial piece the reader needs – is left by the wayside.  Decisions are made, contracts signed and marketing planned without discovering whether the product has a plot. It’s is bit like selling cups of coffee without looking to see if there is actually coffee inside.

You might think there’s a plot in every novel.  Not so.  All novels have stories, but not necessarily a plot.  In fact, it is easier to write a novel without a plot. Let me give an example. In a popular novel, the teen protagonist discovers the guy she likes is a vampire and he has to save her from the bad vampires. That is a story, and proved to be an appealing one.  But it lacks the inner girders of a plot.  A plot is what a story is wrapped around and represents a fundamental change in conditions from the beginning of the novel to the end.  A possible plot that the vampire story could have been: an immature girl must face her deepest fears and make choices, thereby taking a big step toward responsible adulthood. But no such plot existed. And that is why after reading it voraciously, so many readers (including me) were left unsatisfied.

The success of this and other plotless novels have inspired legions of new writers who think they can write something better.  Perhaps they can if they take the time to learn what a plot is, the role it plays and ensure that there is one in their novel.  Some may argue that I have no business pointing out this flaw in contemporary fiction given that the plot and the story in my first novel, Foreseen, have different protagonists. But the fact remains that Foreseen HAS a plot. Whether the dichotomy between the story and plot works is for the individual reader to decide.

So, the next time you finish a popular novel and find yourself dissatisfied, perhaps this is the reason. It’s been sold based on a neat concept but lacks substance. In other words, you bought a neat cardboard coffee cup – but there is nothing inside.

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