Idiot Plots and Other Frustrations

I’m reposting “Idiot Plots and Other Frustrations” from two years ago as I get ready for my cover reveal and pre-order promotion for “A Shadow on the Snow” on October 15. I can’t believe I wrote that! When I tell people I’m a writer and they ask what do I write, I can now say, “Novels.” Seems like it’s still a dream. Keep watching for more details as October 15. approaches!

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Idiot Plot. I learned about this plot contrivance while reading a book of film critic Roger Ebert’s film reviews. An idiot plot is a plot that can only advance as long as most or all the characters are idiots.

These are the kinds of plots where I find myself yelling advice to the characters in the pages or on the screen. Horror movies leap to mind.

Dumb teen: Just because every person who has ever entered the old Van Buren place has disappeared doesn’t mean it will happen to me.

Dumber teen: I’ll go with you.

Below are two variations that come under the Idiot Plot.

GLINDA THE GOOD WITCH CONTRIVANCE

My mom can not stand Glinda the Good Witch. In The Wizard of OzDorothy could have avoided all the trouble with the Wicked Witch if Glinda had just told her in Munchkin Land to click the red shoes together to go home. I know Glinda says Dorothy wouldn’t have believed her, but she could have told her. If Dorothy rejected the advice and got into all sorts of difficulties because of it, at least Glinda had done her due diligence and wouldn’t be in danger of getting smacked by my mother.

Stories where a key character withholds information for no good reason are so frustrating. In Prisoner’s Base by Rex Stout, a character is killed because she doesn’t immediately tell the detectives that the man claiming to be her late friend’s husband is an imposter. No convincing reason is given why she withholds that information.

This contrivance seems to happen when the revelation of the information would end the story then and there. But if that’s the case, then there’s something wrong with the plot’s construction.

RUBE GOLDBERG METHOD OF PLOTTING

Mystery and thriller writers are very susceptible to this problem. In an effort to keep surprising their audience, they string together plot points that don’t feed naturally into each other.

Years ago, my husband watched a season of the show 24 because he’d read that terrorists hack into computers in order to make every nuclear reactor in the U.S. meltdown. As a nuclear engineer, my husband thought the premise was a hoot.

Although there a number of subplots, the main thread concerned the meltdowns. These endanger the president, so he takes off in Air Force One. The terrorists plan for this and have a pilot on their payroll steal a military jet and shoot down Air Force One. When it crashes, the terrorists recover the briefcase with the president’s codes to set off missiles and use it to steal one missile.

They have the ability to meltdown every reactor in the country but that’s only a step to getting what they really want: a missile. I’m still scratching my head over this one.

But, Sometimes, Characters Can Be Convincing Idiots

People do stupid things. People say stupid things. Unfortunately, I know this first hand and wish I could take back some of the things I’ve done and said.

In fiction, I have to make the stupid behavior convincing. That can take a lot of work, but if I want to reflect real life, and if it’s truly important to my story, I have to put in the time to pull it off.

In 1947 film noir Out of the PastKirk Douglas plays a realistic, stupid character. He is a professional gambler, whose girlfriend shoots and wounds him while stealing $40,000. He hires a detective to find her. He seems more interested in her than the money.

The detective finds the girlfriend. They have an affair and try to hide from the gambler. But another detective finds them. The girlfriend shoots him and runs. Our hero discovers years later that the girlfriend pleaded with the gambler to taker her back, and he did.

Why would the gambler do this when she shot him? The character of the gambler makes this stupid behavior believable. He’s arrogant, rich, and ruthless. He gets what he wants, when he wants it. It feeds his ego to take back a woman who begs him to reconcile with her. But his arrogance blinds him to how clever his girlfriend is. Eventually, he finds out but not in a way he likes.

For more advice on plot, click here. For a different view on plotting, check out this article “Puzzling Away at Plotting” from the site Seekerville.

What are some plots that make you want to scream? Or at least say, “Huh?”

What’s the Plot Behind This Face?

The county fair wrapped up recently in my part of the Buckeye State, so when I scrolled onto this photo, I was intrigued. The young man is upset and thinking something over. What’s the plot behind this face?

The music blaring from the speakers on the midway grows faint as I watch them. Tyler is almost a coat for Addie. He’s hanging all over her. She seems to like it. I think.

She sets aside the BB gun, and smiling, moves away from the game, weaving through a group of middle school kids.

Tyler drapes his thick arm across her thin shoulders. Addie giggles.

But is it because she likes it or because she doesn’t? How can a guy tell?

They stroll behind the Ferris wheel.

“Andy.” My little sister tugs on my arm. “We want more money for tickets.”

“Here.” I pull every bill from my wallet. “When you and Mark are done, wait by the bumper cars for me.”

“Where are you going?” asks Mark.

I point at the Ferris wheel and head for it, breaking into a jog.

For more plot prompts to inspire your writing, click here. Over at Writer’s Digest, find 25 plot twists and prompts.

What’s the Plot for This SciFi Scene?

What’s the plot for this scifi scene? There’s so much going on. Here’s my inspiration.

“No, no, no!” shouted Commander Zaeron. “We’ve entered the atmosphere, Cadet!” He shoved Cadet Plsae out of the pilot’s seat.

With the cadet screaming as the land rushed toward them on the main view screen, Commander Zaeron slapped at touch panels. The starboard side of the ship plowed into the field, showering the landscape with boulders and dirt, the metal skin grinding through layers of sediments. Zaeron flew out of the seat.

Then the ship went quiet, except for the gasping of Cadet Plsae.

Zaeron pulled himself up to the bank of touch panels, half of them black, the other half almost vibrating with warning alarms.

But the main screen still worked. A small figure, possibly female, stood in the field, looking directly at the ship.

Zaeron gulped, every story he’d ever heard or read about Earthlings colliding together in his mind.

For more prompts to inspire plots, click here.

What’s the Plot for this Scene?

What’s the plot for this scene? What drama can you add to two people out on a trail ride? Below is my inspiration.

The top arc of the sun just clears the horizon as we trot down the deserted country lane. A woodpecker drums on the snag of a dead ash.

Dad hasn’t said a word to me since I asked to ride with him this morning. Maybe he thinks it’s weird since I haven’t ridden with him in months. Or is it a year? Maybe he knows I wouldn’t ask to accompany him unless I wanted something from him.

I tighten my grip on the reins. Most likely, he isn’t thinking about me at all. Like usual.

Dad takes Paladin into a canter. Squeezing with my legs, I put Cinnamon into one. When we slow back to a trot, I test the waters.

“Dad?”

His block of a face registers no expression, but his head dips a fraction.

“The county fair’s next week. I’m competing on Tuesday. Can you come watch me?”

He shakes his head. “I have meetings all day. I can’t reschedule them.”

And he wouldn’t even try. I stare at the reins in my gloved hands. Should I even bother with what I really need to ask him?

For more plot writing prompts, click here.

What’s the Plot for this Ordinary Scene?

This month’s prompts are all about plot, the story component I have the most trouble with. If you have that problem too, I hope these photo prompts will inspire you. I almost passed by the photo I’m using today because it seemed so ordinary. But that’s what fired my imagination. What’s the plot for this ordinary scene? Below is my idea.

As we wrapped up the meeting, I noticed how everyone looked alike. We were all wearing sober blue or black suits. We were all smiling in a friendly but professional way, although I hadn’t felt friendly or professional in weeks. We had just had the fifth meeting of the day to discuss things we would discuss in a meeting next week and the week after that. Had we’d decided to do anything in any of those meetings? I didn’t think so.

“Is something wrong, David?” Amy said as she resumed her seat beside me.

How could she tell? I touched my face. My smile was gone. And I had a feeling it wasn’t coming back.

For more plot prompts, click here.

What’s your plot for this ordinary scene?

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