When The Plot Of A Story Gets A Few Things Wrong

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The Devil Is In The Detail In Fiction Writing

Fiction writing only works when the plot of a story makes perfect sense.

“The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. E. M. Forster

It’s an old quote, but I was reminded of it this week. I am in the process of finalising a new manuscript, which will hopefully be ready to publish soon.

A short story is easy to track, but the plot of a novel is a complex mixture of many threads.

Having done all the right things, such as getting my beta readers to go to work, and sending me their feedback, as well as a full edit by my editor, the manuscript was getting very close to being ready.

So over the last couple of weeks, I have been straining my old eyes to complete a couple of final reads, looking for those small annoying faults, like misplaced commas, errant formatting, typos and silly repetition.

Due to the good work that was done in the editing stage, there were not a lot of faults, so I was very pleased that the end of the process was close.

Until that is, a glaring sequence of events error hit me in the face about halfway through what I thought was going to be my final read. This is the kind of problem that usually hits first draft fiction writing.

 

What was the problem?

In chapter twelve, one of the main characters is in a situation of being thirsty and cursing at not having any beer in the refrigerator.

However, I suddenly remembered that earlier on in the story there was a mention about beer.

I did a search and found the passage in an earlier chapter. In that chapter, he drinks a beer, then a second – from two six-packs he was given by a friend.

Another search for a mention of beer found a paragraph in a much later chapter, where he collects the remaining beer.

The problem here is that I wrote these three passages months apart, and as the cans of beer were such a minor detail and in fact, irrelevant to the plot structure, it was easy to read through the error without noticing.

But, for a reader, this type of blunder with minor plot points can be very annoying.

 

Fiction writing is about the minute details

I recall in almost all of my previous books; I found a similar silly sequence and character errors.

One was that a character’s eye colour changed, and another was a child’s age being far too old for the age of the parent.

During the final stages of writing the manuscript, I had to change all the dates and ages because I had the climax of the story set six years too early.

I have read a number of books, in the last few years in particular, that have had small plot problems similar to those I have mentioned, and it is an annoyance that distracts from the enjoyment of the story.

While there is an abundance of advice for authors with regard to checking grammar, spelling and typos when preparing a manuscript for publishing, perhaps it’s worth adding one more item to check.

Be absolutely sure that the story, and all of the minor details it contains, make perfect and logical sense.

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

4 thoughts on “When The Plot Of A Story Gets A Few Things Wrong

  • This post is why I rarely write scenes and chapters out of sequence or without reading exactly where I’ve left off. There are always mistakes if I don’t write linear, some of them major. But unless some type of major event that suspends writing I still have to read the manuscript when writing from the beginning or from wherever has ended. Other authors claim they write out of sequence constantly and I used to as well until I was published by a publisher. I needed to crank out three books in succession and needed to know everything from every character’s motives to their related action timelines in each book. I know this sounds snarky but that’s how I came to writing seriously.

    Reply
  • Excellent post. I will read it again and again.
    “Be absolutely sure that the story, and all of the minor details it contains, make perfect and logical sense.”

    Reply
  • Mistakes happen. I read a book recently where Roman legions were marching along the Rhine where clearly the writer meant the Rhone. Or there was The Remains Of The Day, where he watches the sun set over the sea from Weymouth pier, which you can’t do because Weymouth seafront faces east. These niggling errors creep into even the best books.

    Reply
  • I once set aside a book by a popular women’s fiction author because of a timeline mistake. I read the two conflicting passages several times trying to make sense of it before realizing it just didn’t work. Either the dad lived with them or he didn’t. If I caught it, why didn’t her editor?
    Stuff happens, even to bestsellers.

    Reply

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