What’s the conflict? What are the stakes?
These are good questions, but I have recently realized there is another aspect to a plotting “got ya”, and that is momentum. Books that seem to have “fake” conflict, that is, a novel you pick up and feel it is contrived, inadvertently has a problem with momentum.
“Show not tell” is directly related to this. There are thrilling novels I have read that are somewhat Tell, and not because the author has been granted some leeway by her readers because they are invested n the author’s previously published works. Some of that reason is that even though the novel has dropped into Tell mode, the momentum of the story is significant. Perhaps the main character “discovered” something and now we as readers now share the joy in that discovery.
Fake conflict is easy to spot because it becomes apparent that the author is trying to interject momentum back into the novel, almost as if they have realized they are in “Tell” mode and need to come out. The pacing slacked; the plot has hit a wall. CONFLICT will fix that right? Not if it is contrived!
I have been guilty of this, I admit. Now I have the Evil Eye out for it.
Sometimes I have regrets about the missing holes in my education. I have promised myself if I ever made it as a published author, I would hit writer’s conferences hard. I bet they talk about things like this in the first ten minutes of Day 1.