Top Ten Plotting Pitfalls (FenCon Writer's Workshop Part 2)

Anyone who writes Science Fiction, Horror, or Fantasy knows how easy it is to get tied up in world building. Here are some of the common pitfalls that beleaguer speculative fiction writers and how to avoid them.


The following series comes to us from guest blogger and author Tom Howard.

Learn more about Tom by visiting his Amazon Author Page, and check out Tom's latest story in The Good Fight, an anthology of superhero vs. monster stories.


FenCon--a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention in Dallas, Texas--hosts an affiliated writers’ workshop every year, where professional writers share their own experiences with beginning writers in intensive workshops.

My own writing is at a too comfortable plateau, and I attended to learn some new skills to improve my writing. I’ve enjoyed FenCon writing workshops before and always find something to take away.

I attended the workshop with my friend and frequent collaborator, Belinda Christ. I think she has attended them all. Like me, she’s always searching for community and new tools to improve her trade.

This year, 2015, urban fantasy writer, Jaye Wells, did a four-day class for a dozen writers on critiquing each others’ work. Ms. Wells used our comments as a springboard to present sessions on structure, conflict, and the other areas writers need to learn their craft.

Part Two - Top Ten Plotting Pitfalls

  1. Shoe-horning – Don’t do your world building last. The world organically builds your characters, because they come from that world. If ideas start coming to you during the writing process, don't be tempted to just mash them into huge paragraphs of exposition. Take a break from writing the actual story and let the ideas flow out. When they have, you can go back through them and decide which ones you actually need at that point of the story.
  2. OCDiety – Don't be so invested in the details that the story doesn’t unfold organically. This is connected to shoe-horning; nobody wants to stop reading about a poisoned character to hear a lesson on the healing flora of your world. It might be good for you to know it, but don't dive so deep you can't get back out. Know just enough about your world to write. 
  3. Jargon Fouls – Watch made-up words that aren’t necessary, and don’t be too clever with your naming. Reading words you can't pronounce gets annoying fast. It's good to get specific with language when you're world building--even down to slurs and insults in your native language--but don't go so far that it's irritating to read.
  4. Does Not Compute – Watch your character's motivations and the customs of your society. Don't put your characters in a difficult-to-believe situation just because it's convenient for the story. Creating something from nothing has to have some internal logic, no matter how fantastic. 
  5. Dangerously Derivative – There's nothing new under the sun, but that doesn't mean you can just copy-paste someone else's world and color over a few spots. Be inspired by your favorite stories, but make sure you're bringing something original to the table.
  6. The Rube Goldberg Flaw – Don’t make your world too complicated unless you’re George R.R. Martin. The more complicated the plot, the less world building is necessary and vice versa. If you can get your characters from A to B in three steps, don't put them through ten.
  7. Conformity – Just because you've worked hard to create your culture doesn't mean you can't rock the boat a little. Consider the culture's beliefs and conformity and then rebel against them. Always be looking for some new element of the world to help breathe some life into the story. 
  8. Procrastination – Don’t world build to avoid writing. It's fun, but sooner or later you have to be finished, or nobody will ever get to visit the world you've created.
  9. One-Sidedness – If you've created a broad and vivid world, don't just sow us one person's image of it. Everyone looks at the world in a unique way. Think about how different people see a room differently and apply that to your writing. 
  10. Dullness – If you've never done anything interesting, how can you have anything interesting to say? Have real-life adventures to provide realism to your work.


Tom's report from FenCon continues next week with some Common Style Problems.