THE PLOT SECTION
A TOTAL OF 20 POINTS
Unusual/original story or told with particular skill or a fresh twist
Internal and/or external conflicts of protagonist(s) well-defined within framework of subgenre
Conflict strong enough to sustain word count
Plot and action are easy to follow for the reader. (The reader can understand what is happening and why.)
One of the most important sections on the score sheet is PLOT. This section of the Judge Training is fairly long...but I didn’t want to skimp.
EXAMPLES AS APPLIED TO EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY (1998)
Originality of story
A Cinderella story (poor, normal girl marries well), is not exactly original...and since there aren’t that many basic plots available to writers, what do contests, agents, editors actually mean by “originality”? To get an agent or editor's attention, it needs a twist.
In EVER AFTER, our heroine has a wicked stepmother and stepsisters, but she is far from needing rescue. After the accidental meet with Prince Henry, her strong, lively character takes an active role. Throughout the story, she rescues herself and others. Leonardo daVinci as her "helper" is an additional delightful twist, along with many of the secondary characters.
So there’s an extra layer to EVER ATER. You want to discover WHY Danielle works her fingers
to the bone to save an estate that doesn’t belong to her and a ‘family’ that mistreats her, and WHY Henry wants more than just ruling a kingdom.
Story told with a particular skill, fresh twist
Subjectivity as a reader...there’s no rhyme or reason why one story appeals to one person and not another. It also depends on where that reader is in their life. Are they upset on that particular day they choose to read your work OR are they completely at ease, relaxing with a mint julep? As an author, we can only hope it’s always the later. But sometimes it boils down to life experiences, an accumulation of events that either prepares or dissuades a reader from a particular work. It took me YEARS to watch Schindler’s List. I knew it was a good movie...but I couldn’t force myself to watch the subject matter. Even then, my husband and I had to stop half-way through the movie and watch our favorite comedy. Subjectivity. Humph. One author told me a long time ago: If two out of three people LOVE your work...that’s a really good fan club!
Subjectivity. Each reader will connect with a story as an individual. That’s both the beauty and curse of the written word. Keep in mind that a perfectly-told, unique story can still be boring. As we’ve been reminded, publishers are looking for a “good yarn” and they know it when they see it. Something to think about: If you’re forgetting that you’re judging the material…it’s probably an indication the author has “particular skill.” Try not to think about the mechanics of the story and see if you can get lost in it.
In EVER AFTER, the clichéd accidental meet between Danielle and Prince Henry is spiced up a it with a case of mistaken identity (or status). He doesn't know she's a peasant, and she delights in taking on a different role. And who can forget her pegging the prince with the apple? But the subjectivity (as a viewer) depends on the acting, on the way Drew Barrymore and Dougary Scott deliver their lines as these characters.
Conflict strong enough to sustain word count
In twenty-five pages, it is not only possible to determine sustainable conflict, but should be evident from the magnitude of the conflict's introduction. Too many threads in a story might be confusing, but some are necessary. Some may just be the introduction of secondary characters. Some may be introduced in a seemingly unrelated prologue. Some may be told from a villain’s POV.
In EVER AFTER, Danielle knocks the Prince from his horse (actually her horse that he's "borrowed") with the apple, an action we know will come back to haunt her the moment she runs into him again. Deceiving the Prince about her identity also provides fertile ground for future problems.
At first glance, EVER AFTER seems to be a simple story about mistaken identity, but the conversation between Prince Henry and Danielle about her favorite book, Utopio, soon piques the interest of both characters to continue their discussions. They each have a status-defining view on peasants that affects all of their actions. This growth is continued through the entire film. This one element is not enough to sustain the movie (nor a book). Some of the additional threads are: the stepmother’s plot to wed her pretty daughter, ignoring the youngest daughter, the gypsies, Leonardo da Vinci, the missing objects in the estate, the Prince’s need to wed, Danielle’s best friend... Lots of small plot lines that bring the entire movie together.
Internal and/or external conflicts of protagonist(s) well defined within framework of subgenre
Keep in mind the framework changes depending on the category. Inspirational entries may or may not have highly provocative inner conflict. The driving conflict in a Romantic Suspense is a strong external element of danger. If the conflict could be resolved by a conversation between the main characters, it may not be a true internal and/or external conflict. Is the author developing the story where the characters aren’t allowed to talk about the problem? Is it logical? You’ll hear this several times, but each story has to be read and judged on its individual merits. Maybe my example will speak clearer than me…
In EVER AFTER, the conflicts would fit the parameters of a historical targeted line. Part of Danielle's inner conflict is her unwillingness to reveal she's a peasant. Prince Henry's inner conflict is his unwillingness to accept the impending responsibilities of becoming king. Both struggles are plausible and well-developed within a historical context. However, the conflict normally would not be a strong one for a contemporary manuscript set in America. But also keep in mind the film, THE PRINCE & ME where the heroine has a strong, farm background and the hero is a prince. He’s hiding his identity, etc...and her identity presents a problem when she wants to become a doctor AFTER their engagement. SO...it works.
As always, if you have questions relating specifically to an entry, contact GEcoordinator@ntrwa.org.
Most of the opinions on judging and interpreting the questions’ intent are my own words. I’ve been in the business over 15 years and have spoken to many authors, gathering information. A lot of the time when a question is asked, I go to authors who publish in that genre for advice. Please use your own expertise and experience, but keep our humble interpretations in mind.
~Thanks, Angi Morgan
Contributions and edits by Fenley Grant.
Additional help tips for judging all entries are available through our judge training on the blog.