Is Your Plot Line Screwed?


I just finished reading Richard Russo’s, Everybody’s Fool, which takes place in the present in a forty-eight hour time period. There are 447 pages in the book. That indicates a lot of detail crammed into those two days. My assignment was to unfold the the un-tangential secrets of his plot line.

I thought of a screw. Of course, why not.

Screws come in different sizes and types. Their job is to hold things together. A story is like a screw in that it has to hold itself together.

Screws are usually classified as Type A or Type B. A’s are coarse threaded screws; they have fewer threads per inch for holding together lighter materials. B’s are finer threaded screws with more threads per inch. They can hold together more and heavier materials.

Stand a screw on its head and imagine that the threads are the actual storytelling of a book which ascends in an orderly circular fashion along the core (or plot) of the screw (or story). You can tell at a glance if there will be a lot of description, or a little, if it’s coarse threaded or fine, if it is holding together a light weight book or a heavier tome.

Light writing, heavier writing; both are fine. They just need the right screws. They need to hold together and not have tangents that fly off the page.

Russo did a lot of plotting. Every character, even the dog, had his or her own plot line. The town and the physical terrain had plot lines. Maybe there was an instance or two of too much plot and the story line escaped and flew off the handle.You could feel it as you read. There the description, an added character, or a sub-plot line were impediments to the smooth turning of the screw. They were not firmly attached to the main core, they did not ascend in that even circular movement, with the rest of Russo’s neatly constructed plot lines, all the way to the denouement. They were irritating flanges on the threads that needed to be filed off. They were gluts of cream that escaped a centrifuge and slopped out of the book. A darling perhaps?

Everybody’s Fool is an example of a long screw with very fine threads; a tightly wound screw. I only used his, maybe only one, instance of unnecessary flange-ness, to point out that no book is perfect. For the most part Russo kept his character descriptions and plot and sub-plot lines in an orderly fashion, but not so orderly that it was boring, as they rounded and tightened the story. His writing drew the reader in, instead of flinging her out. The facets of the story were firmly attached to the core and to all the other characters even as they moved along and around each other and the story line.

I should be so meticulously careful in my writing!

I could add that all of Russo’s characters were screwed from the beginning, even the dog, as was the landscape, but for the main characters the ending was as redeeming as an ending should be.

About Eleanor Ingbretson

Native New Yorker. Transplanted to New Hampshire years ago, but still considered a flatlander by the neighbors. Writer of fantasy and mystery and whatever else takes my fancy.

Posted on September 3, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I strongly object to stories in which a dog ends up anywhere but curled up warmly in his basket with a full stomach.Otherwise, Russo sounds great.


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