Four Beginner Mistakes that Kill a Good Plot

by Kristen Hogrefe

Between wedding preparation and inspiration from Marie Kondo, I’ve been enjoying the minimizing challenge to get rid of stuff and create space. One part of this adventure took me to a dresser drawer where I had stowed my first writing attempts from childhood. (Forgive me, Marie, but I couldn’t part with these.)

The reason for keeping them isn’t because they’re good. They’re hilariously awful, but they show how far my writing has come.

As I perused them, so many plot mistakes jumped off the page. Though beginner blunders, they can still creep into our stories and wreak havoc on our plots if we let them.

#1: Over-villainize the villain.

We get it. The bad guy is bad. However, the bad guy (or girl) must have a motivation for what drives him to villainy.

A recent case that still has people talking is the villain or anti-hero Thanos in the Avengers saga. He sincerely believes that wiping out half the population will make the world a better place and cure the resource problems. Twisted? Absolutely. But the audience has no doubt what’s driving this madman who considers himself a humanitarian at heart.

#2: Make the good guy too good.

The flip side of the villain coin is making the hero/heroine too perfect. I’ll never forget some feedback a friend gave me on a first draft. Although she liked my story, her one complaint was about the love interest.

“Kristen, he’s just too good. Give him a flaw. Give him something he has to struggle with or that annoys her. That’s real life. That’s real love.”

Let’s not fall into the mistake of transposing our own ideals on our characters. If we want readers to relate to them, they’re going to have baggage, personal demons, or a backstory that people find sympathetic.

#3: Dump the backstory at the beginning.

Speaking of backstory, I’m not sure why we writers sometimes feel the need to explain everything. The whole point of plot is to tease the reader to keep reading, to keep wondering.

When we start with backstory instead of action, we “tell” readers everything up front they want to know. As a result, they’re not interested in reading further and usually shelve the book.

#4: Bore with too much description.

This mistake is one that marked many of my adolescent attempts and one my writing students often make. On page one, they interrupt the action with a mirror-length description of their heroine. It usually reads something like this:

Amelia gazed in the mirror at her long blonde tresses that fell in gentle waves past her waist. Her fairness was the envy of every maiden in the kingdom.

She brushed a hand along her floor-length, velvety blue gown which matched her diamond-colored eyes and sighed contently at the vision she made.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but if I had a coin for every time I’ve read something like this, I’d be booking a flight to another bucket-list destination today.

Jesting aside, this example illustrates how description can both stop the action, and when combined with mistake #2, kill the reader’s interest.

Takeaway for Today

My goal here is not to discourage anyone. If anything, it’s to laugh at our beginner mistakes and even “thank them” (cue Marie Kondo) for what they have taught us.

In all seriousness, though, I do thank God for the gift of writing He’s given us and the creativity to write a plot that will entertain and speak truth to readers. When we work to avoid mistakes that will steal our writing’s effectiveness, we steward our gift well.

Writing Prompt: What beginner mistakes would you add to this list?

[Click to  Tweet:] A few beginner mistakes can kill a good plot and make readers put a book down. Learn how to avoid them and let your plot soar! 4 Beginner Mistakes that Kill a Good Plot via @InspiredPrompt with @kjhogrefe #amwriting #WritingLife


Author Kristen Hogrefe

Kristen Hogrefe is an award-winning author and life-long learner. Her books include The Rogues trilogy and Wings of the Dawn trilogy, and she also enjoys speaking events that allow her to connect with students, readers, and other writers. A Florida girl at heart, she says yes to most adventures involving sunshine. Connect with her online at KristenHogrefe.com.

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The Reactionary by Kristen Hogrefe

The Reactionary by Kristen Hogrefe

Three friends. One broken world. One chance to make it right.

Gath survived the satellite explosions, only to encounter one of Felix’s plague initiatives. Somehow, he must recover, re-unify what’s left of their leadership team—and help them find a reason to hope.

Luther devises a diplomatic distraction to buy Portia time for her international mission and him an opportunity to rescue his scientist-father, tricked into operating Felix’s labs. Will he lose them both anyway?

Portia resents that Darius lied about their father, and defying her brother now might secure a much-needed overseas ally. But liberty for all could cost her future with the man she loves and any chance of reuniting her fractured family.

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5 thoughts on “Four Beginner Mistakes that Kill a Good Plot

  1. Pingback: Four Beginner Mistakes that Kill a Good Plot — Inspired Prompt – Kristen Hogrefe

  2. Kristen, great advice! One benefit I had before I started writing was two decades of experience teaching literature (which made writing both easier and harder). When I teach character analysis, one of the first things we talk about is no character is ever all good or all bad…because people are not all good or all bad. Then we go through movie characters and look for the flaw in the good or for the hint of goodness in the bad. I love watching the light bulbs come on as students realize this. — My biggest beginner mistake was backstory. I still struggle with it sometimes–even though I know better. I think with both backstory and description, as readers we don’t like it, but as writers we justify why ours is so necessary (at least that’s what I try to make myself believe when I know it’s not true)!

    • Thanks, Karen! I can definitely relate, because I’m an English teacher as well. Ah, and yes, backstory is tricky… knowing how much to tell and when it’s appropriate. One tip I tell students is to write with the reader in mind. Would they care about that detail, or is it a “little darling” we need to let go? Helping students is so rewarding, and your students are blessed to have you!

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