This week’s QOTW comes from H. Holdsworth, who asks: How do you keep your plot from becoming contrived?
This is a tricky question since almost no plot can be completely “new”. Because of that, you can end up with that “contrived, ripped-off” feeling. I think the best way to avoid this is to give the story a unique aspect — maybe an ironic twist or a crazy-but-lovable character.
For example: wizarding schools? Done a thousand times. Boys who are the Only Ones to stop Evil Bad Guy? Also been done a thousand times. What makes Harry Potter special? The setting — Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, muggles, quidditch. It’s the world that made J.K. Rowling’s series really stand out and attract millions of readers.
Another example: vampire who loves a non-vampire? Done. An immortal who has waited forever to find his True Love? Done. What makes Twilight unique? That a vampire finds his true love, but he doesn’t just love her — he really wants to suck her blood and he’s not sure he can keep himself from doing it! That’s some situational irony. (Plus, it’s a great way to build tension! Whether or not this was intentional, it was a very clever plot device on Meyer’s part!)
One more example: noir detective stories? Definitely been done. Quest to solve best friend’s murder? Also been done. What makes Veronica Mars unique? The MC, Veronica — she’s a tough-as-nails teenager with sarcasm, sleuthing skills, and a softer side to boot. Viewers fell in love with her, and that kept us coming back each episode.