Plot and Predictability

In Gail Carson Levine’s talk “Sweat and Magic” at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference she covered a plethora of great topics. This post re-caps her insights on plot and predictability. Be sure to check out previous posts wherein Levine discusses character development and how to create suspense and tension.

“I’m going to talk most about sweat, and a little about magic.” – Gail Carson Levine

Let’s Talk About Plot…

  • Not all stories have to have a crisis. Some stories can be a chronicle. Example: Go and Come Back By Joan Abelove.
  • Not all books have a great deal of tension, but you can still make this work. So much is possible.
  • Levine writes plot driven books. She thinks about what is boring, and then makes a list of what could possibly happen.
  • When writing lists – no idea is stupid! Who would have thought turning a pumpkin into a cart would be a good idea? But it’s in Cinderella! You never know what might develop, so don’t limit yourself.
  • When at a plot juncture make a list. Force yourself to list twelve possible outcomes. Don’t stop at four if it is good, because number twelve may be even better.
  • Plot arises out of situation, usually.
  • We all create plot as we create our lives. We should all observe ourselves.
  • Ask a dangerous question. That can push a story forward.

Don’t Be Predictable…Or Do…

  • In general the rule is to be unpredictable. Supposedly being predictable is bad, but this is not always true.
  • Example: The Television show Monk – the stories are often very predictable, but that is not why Levine watches the show. She watches it for the humor and the character’s neurosis.
  • Sometimes predictability can increase tension at the outset.
  • Why do we re-read books? If we only wanted the story to be unpredictable we wouldn’t ever re-read a book. There are multiple layers in a book.
  • Beware of sentimental predictability.
  • What is predictable for us adults may not be so for a child. But you still want to be accessible to all.
  • There are no absolute rules!
  • Drop a clue that excites expectation.
  • Surprise yourself! That is part of the magic.
  • Ask your characters what they want to do in a situation, they may surprise you.
  • Let the reader draw their own conclusions.

Gail Carson Levine is the author of seventeen books for children. After nine years of manuscript rejection, many writing classes, and enthusiastic membership in SCBWI, her first published book, Ella Enchanted, won a Newbery honor in 1998. She blogs about writing at

2 thoughts on “Plot and Predictability

  1. Pingback: SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away « Ingrid's Notes

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