Plot Contrivances – the bane of my writing life!

In my revision letter, I was pulled up a lot on ‘plot contrivances’.

One eg. ‘It did feel very coincidental that P and C ran into Tim (that’s her nasty ex btw) and his wife together.’

In the above scene, running into her ex-fiance with the hero triggers an important conversation about P’s backstory and conflicts. The editor however wanted me to think of another way to make this happen. She suggested maybe they run into a doctor who delievered some bad news to P instead.

Now I can see how this is slightly less contrived – cos both P and C are working for a children’s charity in a hospital and therefore could more likely run into a doc. But it STILL feels a little contrived to me.

I find it really hard to decipher what’s contrived and what’s an okay coincidence!?

Take the BM (which I’ve written in the original incarnation but am not up to in the revised version yet). P cooks a lovely, romantic dinner for C and just when she’s expecting him to turn up, another man who really, really likes her, turns up instead and is in the throws of proposing to P when C arrives. I’ve hopefully foreshadowed this enough through the story so that readers won’t think ‘What the?’ when he does. The reason I wanted the other man to show up is that I wanted C (the hero) to realise that in just having a ‘fling’ with P, he’s holding her back from what she really wants. Then he sees the hugely romantic dinner laid out and freaks.

This triggers a heated discussion where he makes her confess that she does want marriage, babies, the whole shebang and he leaves.

So my question is… is the other man a plot contrivance or because I’ve foreshadowed it throughout and am using him to make C sit up and think, is it okay? Would love to hear your thoughts.

I could do this scene without the other man. Have C come upon the romantic dinner and simply freak out, but personally I think it’s much stronger if he sees that there’s someone who loves P enough to want to give her marriage and babies and so he realises he should take himself out of the equation. But I could be too close to this, so I’d love your thoughts and opinions.

I think I’ve realised I actually quite like it when external forces (not earthquakes and fires etc, but things that are more likely to happen) give the hero or heroine a shake-up! Perhaps that’s my downfall – I like a bit of action 🙂

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22 thoughts on “Plot Contrivances – the bane of my writing life!

  1. Rach, in all my revisions experience (which is extensive) and in all that experience, with all the times I've been called on plot contrivances (which is extensive!!) I would say, whatever you can do to reduce events like that to include on your h and H, do it.

    With the doctor/ex thing, I would try and see if it can come up organically without either, in which case you avoid any semblance of contrivance. And as for your black moment, it is a loose rule that a black moment shouldn't be cause by anything external. However, it can get murky since you could argue that, if the internal conflict wasn't there, the external event wouldn't matter. See what I'm saying?

    But I do know that, generally speaking, the black moment should be between the h and H. He may be able to realize that she needs all of that, and from another man since he can't give it, without ever introducing anyone else. It might only be a matter of him feeling ill-equipped to give her what she needs.

  2. Thanks Maisey for your thoughts! I've already emailed the editor and come up with a way to get around the doc/ex thing – a way which I hope is much more organic!

    Now I think I might hassle her one more time and ask about the BM. Cos I see what you're saying… but I LIKE IT!!! *cue toddler type tantrum*

  3. Emailing the ed was a good idea. 🙂 But, just IMHO, getting too attached to anything is bad. My first sale really did hinge on me getting rid of the external for the black moment. No harm in asking though.

  4. I've read a lot of books – especially HM&B – as we all have I'm sure – and don't get me wrong but…PC's are in most of them! Some I've read have made me see red(!) in that they *just* so happen to meet here there and everywhere. So I suppose the moral of my rambling is make PC's realistic so that we the readers aren't taken for a ride. I've just finished a historical Roman and it does feature a volcanic eruption 'cos that's what happened – Vesuvius erupted and my H/h were based in and around Herculaneum. So external can work as well (I think). Caroline x

  5. oh, that's a hard one Rach!
    I read a book a few months ago where something was so contrived it pulled me right out of the story (which was fantastic until then!)
    I think if you work on the internal stuff, the external 'stuff' is just a bystander along for the ride =)

  6. If they both work at a hospital, perhaps the BM could be from the hero seeing heroine holding a baby. He would know by the way she was holding baby, looking at it, whatever, that she'd been lying to him and marriage & babies is what she really wants.

    That would happen organically if they both work at a hospital/charity and wouldn't involve anything outside of the two characters and would be a conclusion the hero comes to all by himself.

    Just a few rambling thoughts, hope they help 🙂

  7. You're right, Caroline, they *do* happen in books, and the Historicals allow for more external than MH or Modern. And authors that are already published get away with things that unpublished (or newly published) authors can't.

    I'm getting the sense that the trend is to focus more on characters and character development, which limits external conflict and its effectiveness. I just had to rewrite an entire MS because I had external conflict playing too prevalent a part. What I needed to do was reduce it to the relationship. That's not to say nothing external, but as far as the romance, what keeps them apart, that's where the internal should come in.

  8. Rach – you already know my thoughts (or lack of them) on this, but the lovley ladies here have all posted some great stuff.

    It is tricky. I've just thrown in a external contrivance that I think is small and farily insignificant, but the ed might think otherwise. I like what Maisey said about focusing on the relationship between the h&H, cause in the end its all about their journey's right?

  9. Reading what you have, I don't think the other man is necessary for the black moment. Just seeing all the trouble she's gone to creating a beautifully romantic meal will make the hero feeling threatened and want to withdraw emotionally. I can imagine you writing that scene superbly!

  10. Rachael, plot contrivances seem to over complicate the story a lot of the times, as well. Bringing in other characters and threads. And that takes the focus off the internal conflict and the romance between H and h. So, the simpler, the better.

  11. I vote to kill off the doctor too 😉 Unless he's a handsome doctor… wandering around with rippling abs and someone's stolen his shirt…

    Let us know how it goes 🙂

  12. Maisey – have emailed ed! Will let you all know the outcome 🙂

    Caroline – the last three books I've read have had HUGE plot contrivances in and it's annoying. Not so much cos I didn't think they worked but because I can't work out which plot contrivances are okay and which aren't – lol! In Kate Hardy's latest (which I liked), the hero literally runs his supermarket trolley into his ex which triggers the BM with the heroine! Isn't that contrived?!

  13. Mel – I reckon you are so right. If the internal stuff really grips you, the external should only add not detract!? Is that what you meant? – lol.

    Joanne – great idea, unfortunately they don't both work at the hospital and its a children's hospital, which means the heroine's doc would be less likely to be there! Am I confusing you yet?? 🙂

  14. Rach, been where you are for sure. Had the same plot device call outs from my editor with the first book, and while I did say “sure, sure!! No problem…exactly right!!” lol, I was totally weeping inside because I LOVED my plot devices. But editor was totally right and the story was way better without them. I am now a recovering plot device user. I still want to use them all the time, but I'm aware of my problem, and resist the urge. 🙂

  15. Mira, can we have a plot contrivance/external elements anonymous club?? I had to do that with my first sale, and I thought 'but other people do it.' 😦 Have finally concluded that it IS better without them, and the biggest thing I've learned is…just because someone else got away with it, doesn't mean I'm allowed to. 😀

  16. Mira – love the recovering plot device addict!

    Maisey – good idea about the club! We three can be the founding members, although I'm sure people will flock to be in it 🙂

    Mira/Maisey – just a question – how long (from being given rewrites on your fulls) did it take for you to sub them!?

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