Updated: Feb 21, 2020
There are certain books I’ve read that I look back and remember with loathing.
Well, loathing might be a bit of a strong word here. But I’m a creative writer. What do you want.
Why did I dislike them so much?
It wasn’t the writing style or vocabulary choice that gave me such an unpleasant reaction. When those go bad, they’re mere annoyances – and temporary ones at that, mainly because I don’t get further than the first two pages.
The same goes for characters that don’t cut it. Likewise, setting is a detail most readers can pick up on quickly one way or the other.
But when it comes to an unrealistic plot, you could be halfway through the book before you realize how utterly inane it is. Which means that you wasted your time, your money and your emotions on something that didn’t care enough about you to make proper sense.
That's why I so strongly dislike these books.
An author who doesn’t care about publishing unrealistic plots is unprofessional at best. He’s like an artist who’s paid to paint a realistic portrait, yet produces an intense abstraction instead.
It’s not the work he promised, and the customer should get his money back.
None of this is meant to refer to those little details that end up out of place here or there. You don’t have to start biting your fingernails down to nibs about your already published work and whether the plot is absolutely perfect or not.
What I’m talking about is story lines that start out one way and sharply veer into a different direction for one of two probable reasons:
The writer got writer’s block and decided he didn’t care to work through it properly.
The writer had a specific ending he wanted to reach and didn’t care what he had to mangle to get there.
Neither is acceptable.
Keep your plot realistic.
No, this isn’t anything against science fiction, fantasy or other far-flung genres out there. For all the elves and orcs and aliens they contain, the ones worth reading are still reality-based. They still make sense.
Your plot, whatever it is, is set within a specific world of your choosing. You’re the writer, so you make the rules. But those rules should be followable. Readers should be able to grasp and accept them as working well within the story. Otherwise, a plot loses its integrity and you lose your right to be proud of your publishable piece.
And don’t you want to be proud?
Unfortunately, it’s mostly historical fiction novels that come to mind in regards to these unprofessionally unrealistic plots.
Of the three that immediately come to mind, two began with no established magic whatsoever... only to resort to magic far into the book after the reader had been lulled into thinking he was dealing with an everyday world.
Again, that’s nothing against non-everyday worlds. As evidenced by my own writing, I’m all about a good fantasy series.
But a story that starts out with magic should, in almost every case, continue and end with magic. And a story that starts out without any indication of magic should, in almost every case, continue and end the same way as well.
This just makes sense.
As for the third historical fiction novel that featured an unacceptably unrealistic plot… it needed the main character to be in a certain place at a certain time, and went about achieving that necessity in a sloppy, unconvincing and outright awkward manner.
In all three cases, that’s a major shame. The stories could have been so good and, for that matter, they should have been so good.
Don’t let your story be the next one to suffer from an unrealistic plot. Be better than that.
Your books, you and your readers are all well worth the extra effort.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on story plot here.