Make it Worse

Eventually, I will stop going on and on about the things I learned from the Donald Maass writing workshop. But not yet…

If there is one thing you don’t want, it’s a flat plot. For example, imagine this was your plot:

Bob wants Eggos for breakfast tomorrow but the store closes in an hour. Drive to the store, pick up a box, walk to the cash, TRIP, buy the Eggos.

Why is this plot bad? Aside from being about as exciting as watching flowers wilt, both Bob’s goal and the obstacles in front of it remain unchanged for the entire plot. 

Maass’s idea for fixing this is to MAKE THINGS WORSE, either by upping the stakes or by extending the effects of failure to other characters. For example, to up the stakes in the story above, we could make Bob’s car run out of gas. We could make the store close early for a bizarre town ritual. We could make the store run out of Eggos. To extend the effects of failure in this story, we could say that Bob also has to feed his twelve, hungry children who refuse to eat anything but Eggos for breakfast. We could say that the store owner is overrun by Eggos and must sell them all that day or the store will go bankrupt.

The point is to create a plot that is constantly changing or “hooking” the reader. If you give them the highest stakes and the list of all possible obstacles on page one, they might as well just flip to the last page and read “The End.”

Now, I must go eat some Eggos.

Category: On Writing