"But my Plot isn’t UNIQUE or BIG enough!”
One thing that I worry about is that my plot isn’t good enough. I know lots of other writers who have had this issue in the past as well, and it’s all about having confidence in yourself and your ability to tell a tale.
The plot doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, just think of how many people get fed up of Shyamalan twist-endings. They’re clever sometimes, yes, but they’re also not what everyone ever is looking for, and when they are forced into a piece of work it is painfully obvious to anyone who really values what you’ve written.
What matters is the telling of the story. Your plot can be exceptionally simple, and you might write one of the most compelling books of our era.
I found one thing that helped was to look at other works, and try and break them down into their very, very simplistic terms - the bare bones, the things the author would have decided up front perhaps. The things that… if told without the wonder of the story, might have been boring.
Like A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, which tells the stories of Political struggle against a backdrop of Ice creatures who can raise the dead and force them to attack you. It’s basically a Socio-Political zombie apocalypse, with dragons. That could have gone either way; as it was, it went amazingly. Because Martin is a master of making every character a person, and building such a rich, colourful world that we believe it.
So, what I’ve done is looked at a very popular work that spans multiple books. Harry Potter is widely known, so this should be useful to as many people as possible. It is also praised as one of the most in depth and atmospheric works for children, young people, adults, or just about anyone, having been translated, adapted and studied over and over.
HARRY POTTER BREAKDOWN
Bread and Butter
So, when I asked Google what the heck the plot of Harry Potter was, I got this;
This is what I’m going to call the BREAD AND BUTTER of the story. It’s what happens in the day-to-day of the story. It’s perhaps the introduction J. K. would have given when first sending in her manuscript. It’s also a hugely unoriginal idea.
The concept of a young Witch or Wizard attending a magical school where they can learn their abilities has been done before, a lot. It is basically the prmise of books like EarthSea and the Worst Witch.
So next time you think your premise is overdone or uninspired, remember that it doesn’t matter. It’s not the premise that counts, it’s what you do with it. What Rowling did with it was create an in-depth world, full of structures and rules, populated by characters we all loved, hated, felt sorry for or routed for. She also made sure to include a way for us to learn more about the world, so she made her protagonist just as unaware of the wonder and horror as all of us.
In this case, tea is gonna’ be the conflict of the story. The main arc. Because going to a Wizard School is freaking awesome and everything, but this story needs risk. Our characters need to be in danger, and they need something to overcome. Often writers get stuck here. They have a wonderful setting and they really want to write about their character doing this or that, but what’s the main goal? What is there to overcome?
Very simply, Rowling’s villain is a man who wishes to purify the progression of magic by weeding out those who’s blood he see’s as tainted. He is a Hitler-figure, who himself should be ‘tainted’ in his own view. That’s the villain’s GOAL. It’s clear, and simple.
If you think your villains goal is too simple, just look at Voldemort’s goal. What makes it more complex are the many twists and turns he and Harry both have to adapt too. His many failures, as well.
Voldemort fits into many tropes, including the bad guy ‘selling his soul’ to achieve a vain goal, the bad guy murdering the heroes’ parents, the ‘more like you than you think’ trope, where a Villain and a hero are quite similar. I especailly like that last one, because J. K. played with it. Yes, she included it, and yes she gave a magical reason as to why.
That just shows that unique elements can be added on to overdone ideas, to make them wonderful.
Jam and Cream
This is where Rowling turns her simple ideas into something beautiful. Whether an idea is original or not, it will not matter if the depth is not there. Jam and Cream stands for all the little things.
The fact one of the most hated antagonists was only a prime player in one book but left such an impression, the fact Hermione was disliked by the main characters at first, the fact Neville was the cowardly laughing stock of the group for years. Let’s see… The fact Sybil was right about almost all of her predictions and no one believed her, thus linking her with the Mythological figure Cassandra.
The use of diversion and tension in The Prisoner of Azkaban, the fact that Harry’s own father was rather arrogant and mean at times, yet still a good person. The moral ambiguity of characters like Dumbledore or Snape.
That isn’t even naming the things the books got wrong. Because every author makes mistakes. Yes! You’re allowed too! J. K. has Dumbledore play the ‘I’m going to withhold information from you for the sake of the plot,’ card. We are also supposed to believe Harry forgave everything Snape ever did and named his son after him because he rather fancied his mother. Many issues are left unaddressed, such as the disinterest/damn right rudeness towards Hagrid in the final years, or the silly quest over the fake Sword.
But in the end, if the story is told masterfully, no one is going to care.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you plot is overdone, don’t worry about it. If your world feels familiar, do more to make it your own. If your villain feels like a trope, give them more twists and turns, and maybe a reason for the trope that fits your world alone. If your characters feel stale, give them more scenes that address their personality.
You’re doing fine, and your manuscript is totally fine. If you believe in it, there’s gonna’ be at least a hundred more people who would too.