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A common mistake by writers: When someone asks what the writer’s story is about, the writer starts outlining the plot.

What’s Star Wars about? “A ship is flying through space, with a bigger ship chasing it and firing on it. Storm troopers from the bigger ship board the smaller ship, followed by a major enforcer for a galactic empire. His name is Darth Vader; he’s looking for secret data about the empire’s new weapon, which members of a rebellion against the empire have stolen. But Leia, who’s a princess aboard the smaller ship and a member of the rebellion, hides the information in a robot named R2-D2, who escapes the ship with another robot named C-3PO, and — ”

— and whoever you’re talking to realizes with growing dismay that you’re going to go on and on until you tell the whole long plot. Your audience becomes bored and then resents you for giving a long, complex answer to a short, simple question.

It’s better to give the story’s premise — for instance, “It’s about a farm boy who fights a galactic empire.”

If your audience wants to know more, talk about other major characters, not the plot. Most people care more about people than about plot.

Beware, though, that a long monologue about characters risks the same dismay, boredom, and resentment as a long plot. So describe only a few other characters, and do it concisely. “The farmboy — his name is Luke Skywalker — is joined in his adventure by an old mystic knight, a reckless but cynical pirate, and a tough, gutsy princess.”

If the characters intrigue your audience, then you can ask your audience if he/she/they want to hear the plot.

It’s all about keeping the audience interested. And that, as any writer knows, is crucial.

Yours truly,

The Grumpy Editor

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