Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plot Devices

If, like me, you scratched your head and gazed into the middle distance in wonder the first time you heard the term Plot Device, then stick around.

This is what Wikipedia has to say: "A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience."

Okay, so we can agree that such things as extraordinary coincidence, hinging the plot on finding an object, or using ghosts to suddenly pop up and explain or give back story that wasn't originally known to anyone, are all plot devices we don't want to use. 

But what about the devices we use in romance writing? Things like:

The Secret Baby plot device?
The Hero with Deep Mummy Issues?
The Virgin Plot;
The dreaded Amnesia plot (sorry if you like this one :))
Mistaken Identity,
The eye-rolling Misunderstanding?
Secret Wounds or Past Trauma?

All of these are plot devices, whether we acknowledge them as so or not. So my question is this: What's wrong with using plot devices? Okay, I'm not trying to sanction the really annoying ones that no author worth her career would touch! But they are some we can't deny sells well.

My favourite plot device? Reunion stories! I just love, love second chance romance. 

In the article, Pitching The Category Buzz Words by Carol Stephenson, she gives an extensive list of  romance plot devices--we hear these "buzz words" and we instantly know what kind of story we're picking up.

With thanks to Carol Stehenson and Roxann Delaney, here's the list:

• Babies/kids: abandoned, arranged, lost, found, adopted, biological, inherited, borrowed, secret, switched-at-birth, matchmaking.

• Single parents: struggling unwed mothers, clueless divorced dads, surrogate, blended families.

• Pregnant heroines: stranger, estranged husband or ex as the guilty culprit.

• Cowboys & western settings: think taming.

• Amnesia/repressed memory: Is s/he married, a criminal, parent, missing groom/bride, presumed dead? Did s/he kill someone?

• Twins: so different/so alike, identical, fraternal, triplets, switched identities, mistaken identities.

• Weddings & brides: marriages of convenience, fake fiancées, mail order brides, virgin brides/grooms, runaway brides/grooms, green-card, royal, shot gun, jilted, on the rocks, terms of the will, fight for child custody, by mistake, stop that wedding!

• Reunion: estranged, lost, thwarted, divorced lovers.

• Boss/secretary: or any other combination where will he ever notice her as a woman?

• Favorite sexy 'occupations': doctor, cop, attorney, cowboy, small-town sheriff, FBI agent, secret agent, charming criminal with a heart of gold, bodyguard, journalist, fugitive, former military, mysterious man.

• Bad boy/bad girl: think a challenge to tame, think misunderstood.

• Makeover/transformation: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Pygmalion, Ugly Duckling.

• Fairy tales/myths: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Taming of the Shrew.

• Mismatched Pairings: May/December, wrong/right side of the tracks, star-crossed, mentor/protégé, virgin/rogue, best friends/lovers, opposing occupations [arsonist/fire investigator], she's the boss/he's not, rolling stone/homemaker, country/city, hermit/socialite, gambler/conservative.

 I'm curious to find out whether you have a favourite plot device? What about ones you just can't stand? Do you have any of those?

Thanks for dropping by. I can't wait to read what you have to say.

Hugs x
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  1. I think we're all guilty of using a few of these. I see no harm in it if you can make the rest of the story unique and interesting!

  2. Wow! I think I've used a bunch of these in my books: the first one had a secret baby and a misunderstanding and a reunion (along with some cowboy characters) and my second one had strangers marrying...and I have one in mind for a country boy/city girl theme!


  3. Came across this late, Monique, so I'm tired and probably not as coherent as I could be but had to comment just the same.

    I find themes of loss and trust coming through my stories. Death (or fear of it) tenda to drive my characters. I agree w/Jannine--we;re all guilty but truth is, it's all been done. Getting someone into the story and keeping him/her there is what matters. Heck, I read romance half the time. I know I'm headed toward an HEA, I just want the writer to get me there in a way I believe.

    Thanks for an interesting post!

    Joanna Aislinn
    The Wild Rose Press

  4. I agree with all of you. To be honest, when writers speak of getting rid of their plot devices, I believe they must mean something like using misunderstanding or coincidence to drive the plot (which no one wants to do!). But it's impossible to write a story without using some sort of plot device.

    Thanks for dropping by!



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