Last year, while I was in the UK, I heard a lot about a programme called Downton Abbey, although I didn't see it while I was there. I've finally got around to watching some episodes on DVD, and so I was interested when I came across a review in The Huffington Post. While the review is generally about the programme, Maureen Ryan makes some excellent points that apply equally to writing in general, and especially to the topic of plot, and mistakes to avoid.
One of the main points that resonated with me was this: If a storyline can be removed entirely and it doesn't matter as it has no real effect on the characters, it's not a good story.' Following on from this were comments on silly storylines. I think here the two points are closely connected. The storylines were silly, or could be removed without effect, because they weren't fully explored. We have two options for dealing with this: get rid of the storyline, or develop it so that it does become important.
The first draft is for getting our story written, not perfectly, but to give us the raw materials to craft into something much better. The first draft is where we are allowed the silly storylines that don't lead anywhere, or don't impact on the characters. Finding them is the first step. We then need to decide whether they should be developed into something that has a effect on the characters, or be deleted.
Something else to look for are plotlines that are concluded so fast they strain the reader's suspension of disbelief. Again this is fine for a first draft, but shouldn't remain that way.
Maureen Ryan also says. 'The point of the stories should be making the audience (reader) care about the people in the house (in your book). The point of every plot should be to shed light on who they are, what they want, why they want it and what compromises they'll have to make to get it.'
About halfway through the article (the paragraphs in italics) Maureen Ryan issues a plea to the creators of television (writers!) and these are good points for all of us to keep in mind.
Readers care about the characters - so don't mess them up for the sake of plot, have them act realistically. Even if the reader doesn't like them they should be compelled to find out what happens to them.
Don't come up with plot contrivances or coincidences just to fill space. Everything should matter and be there for a reason.
If there are larger events happening that lead to changes for our characters then let the reader see those reasonable changes, and how they impact on the characters.
All good advice - now to put it into action!