Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Premise, Bad Plot

This is something that has be bothering me over the past few weeks, and I was finally pushed off the edge by reading Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. Now what could be the cause of my annoyance? Something that I like to call:

Good premise, bad plot.

Allow me to explain. I'm going to use the book I have just finished, as previously mentioned, as an example. Anyways, this book is about two sisters who are part of a prophecy where one sister is the gate, and one sister is the guardian. The gate sister has the potential to allow the evil souls from the Other Worlds (there's seven of them) to come into our world, and the other sister, the guardian, is supposed to make sure that doesn't happen. However if the gate sister so wishes she can find the 'keys' that will enable her to stop the prophecy forever.

Sounds good, right? It did to me, then I started reading it. It is quite boring, as for the first half of the book the gate sister is finding out all the info I just shared with you up there. The plot consists of Lia, the gate sister, going to town learning something, going home, having some "Now-we're-enemies-I'm-going-to-try-to-intimidate-you-first" conversation with her guardian sister, then she talks with two of her friends who share the same mysterious mark, wash rinse repeat. Basically, the whole book is the reader learning about the prophecy, and Lia figuring out who the keys are. Not to mention that as soon as the plot begins to pick up, the book is done. This book has a case of Good Premise, Bad Plot.

GPBP (Good Premise, Bad Plot) is basically when the writer has a good idea, but the execution fails. Personally, I think the idea for Prophecy of the Sisters is brilliant, but like I said the execution is bad. Now, what would I do to make it better?

Tip #1

Don't stretch out your story longer then it needs to go. Sometimes less is more. If you are going to write a trilogy/series, then make sure that each book has a separate goal (eg. Harry Potter, each book has a different "mission", but he doesn't have the final showdown with the antagonist until the final book). The book I'm reading is the first in the trilogy, and, according to a friend of mine, it is a set up book for the rest of the series. Now, this isn't necessarily wrong, but it's important to remember that if the first book is boring, then the reader probably won't even want to read the book that you've set up for.

Tip #2

Don't overload the reader with information. It's great if you know the history of the protagonists family or the history of the world they're in, in fact I recommend it, but you should only tell the reader if it's important to the story. When I first started writing I struggled with explaining the layout of the world my characters were in to the reader, but when it really came down to wire, it didn't matter if the reader knew that almost everyone one in Melodea was a goat farmer. It's good for the writer to know in order to write with greater understanding of the world/character, but somethings are better left unsaid.

Tip #3

The third idea that I had in order to ward off GPBP is to add subplots. In the book Prophecy of the Sisters there are hardly any subplots. The one subplot (a love interest) that is included is poorly developed, so when *SPOILER* Lia dumped him I didn't even feel the slightest bit sad. Adding subplots is an excellent way to add layers to your story, which in turn will make it a more interesting read. Let me give you an example:

The knight searching for the princess.
He brings along his fellow knight friend to help him.
They battle many fearsome monsters, and eventually reach the princess.

The knight searching for the princess.
He brings along his fellow knight friend to help him.
His knight friend really turns out to be working for the evil guy who's imprisoning the princess.
The knight and the friend have a falling out, so the knight decides to leave his friend behind.
The knight stays at a tavern where he meets a servant girl and falls madly in love.
The servant girl turns out to be a slave, so the knight has to buy her freedom.
The knight doesn't forget his original mission so brings the servant along with him to rescue the princess.
The servant girl finds out his true mission, and leaves him, but eventually comes back.
They rescue the princess, and the knight must choose between the two girls.

Now, that plot is really quite cliche, but for the purpose of this, it'll do. Do you see the subplots I put in the good example? In case you're reading this at an unreasonable hour of the morning (like I tend to find myself doing sometimes) I'll list them.
Main plot: knight tries to find princess
Subplots: knight-friend, knight-servant girl, friend-evil guy

I don't want to say too much about subplots, as that is a post for another time, so here is a link if you wish to read more on the topic.

Now, back to our original example of the Prophecy of the Sisters, it had all the ingredients for a good novel (good characters, good premise, good setting), but the execution fell short. We don't want this to happen in our stories, so we must employ some of these tips that I've shared with you. Of course, there are more ways to make sure the execution goes well, but for my time and yours I didn't list them above. If you have any other ideas feel free to share in the comments section!

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