Evaluating a Novel's Plot and Scenes
by Frances Beckham

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After months of hard work you have finally completed your first novel. Think of your novel as a puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle is equivalent to pieces of the plot and the various scenes in the chapters. When they are put together, they create a big picture, the novel. However, if your chapter scenes and plot -- the puzzle pieces -- are ill-shaped and ill-formed, they cannot fit together properly to form the big picture. Before attempting to publish the book, do a careful review by asking yourself the following questions:

Is The Plot Original Enough?

When rereading the novel, mark anything that you have read before in other books, or seen in a movie. Next, list them on a separate sheet of paper; then, for each one, write down notes on how to make them different from what you have seen before. For example, in your story your protagonist is an orphan boy who attends a special magic school to learn how to become a wizard. Sound too much like the Harry Potter books? Consider how you could change the essence of the plot. Instead of an orphan, make the protagonist a boy with busy parents who send him to a boarding school, unaware that it is an exclusive school for children who are monsters in human form. Making such notes and brainstorming changes can train your mind to think more creatively.

Can Readers Predict What's Going To Happen Next?

As you tell your story, are you revealing too much information? Can the reader see the resolution of a problem long before you actually get there? Telling the reader too much can bore him. It does not allow readers to utilize their imaginations and feel a sense of mystery and suspense.

Make notes on areas where you have given too much detail. Make changes that will hook the reader and tease her mind. Make the reader believe the story will go one way, then introduce an unexpected twist.

Is The Plot Boring?

Even though your plot may be unique, it may be boring. Boring plots typically include long scenes, rambling dialog, overly detailed descriptive narratives, and little action. Correct this by shortening the dialog and focusing it on the plot. The mood of the conversation should fit the mood of the scenes in the chapters. For instance, if the scene is comical, the dialog should be comical. If the scene is serious, the dialog should be serious. Keep in mind that dialog should always be supportive to the plot. Liven up the story with unique situations and events that can add more excitement.

Don't overdo it, however. Give the reader some down-time between exciting action scenes. Do this by incorporating chapter scenes to appeal to different emotions. Use some comedy, some drama, some suspense, and some mystery to support the plot. Take your readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Is The Plot Too Complex?

Making the plot complex (too many subplots, too many flashbacks, or too many dream sequences) can confuse the reader. A complex plot can lose focus of the main point of the story. It can make it difficult to develop a resolution. Some writers who are experienced can create complex plots. However, for new writers, it is best to keep the story simple.

Is The Plot Too Shallow?

Sometimes new writers get too caught up in making their story exciting and so interesting. They get caught up in the action, symbolism, witty dialog, and slick descriptions, but lose the focus, the meaning, and the purpose of the story. When reviewing your novel, ask yourself, "What is the meaning of the story? What is the purpose? What is the story about?" If you cannot see meaning and purpose in your plot, then the plot is shallow. Begin to think of ways to refocus the plot on its purpose.

Is The Plot Believable?

Readers need to buy into the reality of your story even though it is fiction. If it sounds farfetched and unrealistic, most readers will have a hard time connecting with the story. In your notes, consider what you can do to make a "hard to believe" event more believable, more "possible" within the context of the story.

Is The Sequence Illogical?

This relates to the order of chapter scenes and events in the novel. If you feel the current order is not right, consider ways to rearrange them, change them, or delete them.

Is The Conclusion Satisfying?

Is the resolution is clear enough or logical enough? If you feel unsatisfied with your conclusion, this is your gut feeling telling you that it is lacking something. You need to determine what that "something" is, and make sure it is part of your conclusion.

After reevaluating the plot, it's time to examine each scene.

Insert Yourself In Each Chapter Scene

For each scene, put yourself in turn in the shoes of each character. Live what they live. Feel the emotions of the characters. Act out their parts. Imagine the scenes step by step in your mind. Visualize them and let them play out like a movie with you in it. Doing this helps a writer to see weaknesses in the characters' personalities, lack of focus on the plot, weakness in the dialog, and the length of detail in the description. As you envision the scenes in your mind, jot quick notes. Allow the scene to play out in alternate ways from what you originally wrote.

Examine Each Scene Ending

Scenes should end in a way to make the reader want to read more. End a scene:

Enhance the Core

The "core" relates to the purpose of the scene. After reading each scene, ask yourself the following questions: What is the scene's purpose? Why does it exist? Determine whether the scenes are in line with the plot. If the core is weak, strengthen it.

Adjust the Pace

Long, lagging scenes that require little action can be very boring. To speed them up, use a plot-focused dialog. A short verbal exchange leaves a lot of white space on the page and gives the feeling that the story is moving. Sometimes, conversely, scenes need to be slowed down. Do this by including action and descriptions that are relevant to the plot and move it forward.

Cut or Strengthen Weak Scenes

Often it is hard for a writer to critique his/her own work. When reading through the novel, one often does not see the weak scenes. So when reviewing your book, ask the following questions for each scene:

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, determine whether or not the scene is necessary to the story. If it is necessary, redo it. If not, cut it out.

By taking these steps to improving the plot and scenes in your novel, you'll see those puzzle pieces come together to form the "big picture" you wanted in the first place!

Find Out More...

Plotting Your Novel - Lee Masterson

Copyright © 2011 Frances Beckham
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Frances Beckham is a writer of children's and young adult fiction and resides in Washington State. She operates the Affordable Proofreading & Critique Service for writers of film scripts and novels. Beckham enjoys writing, whether it is scripts, books, or articles.


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