Xlibris Writing Tips| 5 Plot Pitfalls Pt 2

Xlibris Publishing returns with the rest of 5 Plot Pitfalls.




Pitfall #3- Out-of-Character

What do we mean by “Out-of-Character?”

Xlibris Writing Tips| 5 Plot Pitfalls
“… treat your characters like people, not like people-shaped plot-devices.”

You write a character, particularly a central character like a protagonist or antagonist, establish their traits, values, virtues, and flaws. The reader comes to learn what this character will and won’t do, how smart this character is, and what drives this character’s actions and decisions. Then this character does something completely contrary to all of that. There is a disconnect between what has been established and what is happening, in a way the story does not explain or support. The reader questions becoming invested in this character.


If a character established and repeatedly reinforced as being honest and honorable, suddenly breaks their word or acts dishonorably for no real reason a reader can ascertain… then it is a pitfall. If a character changes over the course of a story, grows and develops, then show the sources of those changes. If a character’s full nature is being slowly revealed over the course of the story, make sure that nothing later on contradicts what was earlier revealed. If a character does do something drastically out-of-character to what has already been established, make sure there are and will be revealed sequential reasons why.




The best way to avoid out-of-character pitfalls is to treat your characters like people, not like people-shaped plot-devices. People have motivations, emotions, and fears that influence their actions and choices. Characters who are people feel real and alive to readers. Readers care about what happens to people. Not so with plot devices.




Pitfall #4- Out-of-Context & Out-of-Nowhere

This Pitfall is very similar to the one immediately above, only its focus is setting instead of characters. The setting makes up the background, resources, and rules by which your story operates and with which your characters and plot interact. We refer to far more than historical accuracy. This pitfall addresses the very rules and context of your story. The social realities your characters believe and live by. The tools within and beyond specific characters’ reaches.


This is especially the case with science-fiction and fantasy stories. What are the limits of technology and why? What price does magic exact? What is socially acceptable and what is taboo? What are the reprisals and reactions for breaking said taboos? If you are adding onto or expanding a setting, make sure nothing you introduce contradicts what is already present. If possible, try to foreshadow potential new elements or lay the groundwork for their introduction. If something unexpected is possible within your setting, especially if it will be very plot relevant, make sure to foreshadow it. “Yes, such-and-such magic is possible, but only in theory and something only a madman would attempt…” then it turns out the villain is such a madman… or the hero is.





Pitfall #5- Theme & Plot Out of Balance

Xlibris Writing Tips| 5 Plot Pitfalls
Theme and Plot are both important, but both need to be in balance.

Theme is an important part of the story. It is what underlines a story, providing meaning and a message. It is what certain characters are designed to embody or run counter. Theme provides a filter which colors characters’ actions and choices for the reader. Plot is the series of actions, decisions, causal and resultant events that shape the story, involving and carried out by characters.






Plot with too little theme can feel hollow and barebones. Theme with too little concern for plot or characters has no suspension of disbelief, no emotional investment. Both can also shape the other. If the theme is farcical and comedic, then the plot should reflect that. If the plot is serious and dramatic, then the themes should be carried out within the context of the plot and characters.





Xlibris Publishing trusts this helps

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By Ian Smith