Reading like a Writer: Identify the plot.

Check out the first three parts of this series: here, here, and here!

Anyway, moving forward. We all know what a plot is–the driving force behind a novel. It’s pretty hard to read a novel and not get at least the basic gist of what the plot is, but if you’re reading like a writer, you should go one step above that. Writer-readers closely consider the elements of a successful plotline to better understand the ways other writers are able to drive their readers through a story without losing their interest or confusing them. A well written plot should be easy to follow and engaging. When reading, try to figure out why a plotline is or is not working. Here are some useful things to consider:

Plot Flow
The plot should be impelling and pull you through the story. If it doesn’t, there’s a problem. The flow of a plotline has a lot to do with whether or not it can keep a reader’s attention. If a plot jumps around or is erratic (as in, it doesn’t follow the standard “exposition > rising action > climax > falling action > denouement” structure), or if it doesn’t make realistic, believable, or sensible transitions, not only do readers have a hard time following along, but they have a hard time caring. Think about the plot as you read through a book. Does it throw you into an erratic roller-coaster ride that has too many ups and downs? Is it well-structured? Can you identify the major plot points? Has it sucked you in or are you bored? Why?

Most novels have subplots beneath the primary plotline that are not essential to making the main plot run smoothly but definitely help build a compelling story. These subplots usually involve minor characters and have their own mini plot arcs. You can consider them as you do a primary plotline. Are they smooth? Do they make sense? But more importantly, they should add to the story. If a subplot feels misplaced or completely unnecessary, it probably is. Can you find any subplots? What makes them successful? If they aren’t successful, why don’t they fit in?

Plot Holes
Even published works have plot holes. Usually these holes are too small or insignificant to matter (considering the work DID make it through round and round of revision before being published) but finding them and analyzing them can help writers avoid them in their own work. Did you run across a plot hole? Is it a simple mistake or something that could potentially change the way the work is interpreted? Perhaps the plot hole is intentional. Sometimes writers leave little gaps for their readers to fill in with their imaginations. Does this seem like one of those instances? If so, did it work for you or are you unsatisfied with the lack of information? What could be done to fix it?

The trouble with really digging into the plotline of a novel while you’re reading it is that it can jump around quite a bit before coming together again right at the end. Some authors are exceptionally good at keeping their plotlines pretty vague until that “ah-hah!” moment a few chapters before it’s over. A lot of the time, I re-read a good book to really investigate the plot, because then I know everything that is going to happen and I pick up on little things more easily.


Categories: Reading like a Writer, Series

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