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Weaponized Plot

Josh-1In a couple of posts, I threw around the phrase “weaponized plot.” This is a phrase that I invented (as far as I know). It’s a phrase used often by me and by the staff at Consortium Books. But it occurred to me it might not be immediately obvious to everyone what it means. So, for the benefit of anybody I confused and for people who just like saying it and want to make sure they’re using it correctly, please allow me to elucidate.

The Worst Possible Start

Beginning any kind of formal speech or essay with “the dictionary defines X as…” is the worst possible way to start anything. But I’m a rebel, and it’ll be quite useful for our purposes here, so I’m doing it anyway.

Merriam-Webster defines weaponize as “to adapt for use as a weapon of war.” Often, especially in chemical or biological warfare, this word also brings along the connotation of “rendering down to its most potent form.” Keep those two things in mind for a minute.

The same dictionary has two definitions for weapon. First, there’s the obvious one, but I want to zero in on the secondary definition. “A means of contending against one another.”

May God Have Mercy upon My Enemies, Because I Won’tTank 1

The war I’m in when I write promotional copy is the war to get someone, preferably many someones, interested enough in my book to buy it. Reading it is also nice, but buying it is most important. My enemies are every other book ever written including the other ones with my name on them. War, as they say, is Hell.

My first weapon, or method of contending against every other book in the universe, is my cover. Assuming its successful in getting Mr. Potential Reader to flip the book, my second salvo is promo copy.

In order to win those hearts and minds, I now have to tell them what the book is about. I have a very limited amount of space and attention span. I have to tell them something about the themes and tone of the story as well. If I sell a historical romance as though its a superhero adventure, that likely won’t be a satisfied customer.

The way I do that is by weaponizing (or rendering down to its most potent form) my plot. I tell them what the book is about but I distill it all down to the most interesting bits that also communicate the feel the reader should prepare themselves for. If my story is tongue-in-cheek, I need to make a couple jokes. If it’s traditional adventure, I can say things like “thrilling” or “senses-shattering.” If it’s romance, I might emphasize “burning passion” or “ethereal beauty.”

GrenadeA Few Quick Examples

Okay, you get it in theory, but what about in practice? Here are a couple of examples based on fiction you might be aware of.

Star Wars

Luke Skywalker dreams of adventure even while stranded at the edge of the galaxy as far away from anything exciting as his uncle can keep him. But when fate takes a hand and drops the plans for a super-weapon capable of shattering entire planets in one shot, Luke must take his first steps into a larger world. Evil Empires, scruffy smugglers, beautiful princesses, and mystical warrior monks all propel Luke toward a destiny he never dreamed of: Hero.


A plane crashes on an apparently deserted island. The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, each one with their own lies, loves, and hatreds, must band together to survive. But while lack of food and water may kill them, secrets, both their own and that of the seemingly malevolent Island, may destroy them. Mysteries, lies, alliances, adversaries, and even monsters are only some of the dangers. Will the Island bring redemption for people with broken lives, or will it shatter them beyond repair?

Romeo & Juliet

A family feud threatens to turn Verona into a war zone. The swordsmen of two warring houses, the Montagues and Capulets, battle in the streets. Usually, these brawls are mere words, but far too often, these words are followed with the clash of steel. But when the only son of the Montagues and the only daughter of the Capulets meet as star-crossed lovers, the simmering violence erupts into blood on the streets. Can the lovers survive the lies and betrayals, the ancient hatreds and new loves, the poetry and violence?


High school is hell where even the cutest boys are monsters. One young girl’s life hangs upon her ability to survive vampire fangs and monster claws. But even when she’s strong enough to fight monsters, she can’t protect her broken heart.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

High school is hell where even the cutest boys are monsters. One young girl’s life hangs upon her ability to survive vampire fangs and monster claws. But even when she’s strong enough to fight monsters, she can’t protect her broken heart.

Okay, okay, I might be having a bit of fun with you there at the end. But I’m also demonstrating the dangers of weaponized plot. But I hope the other examples showed you how you can peel off all the extra detritus and tell your readers exactly what they’re in for in as few words as possible. And even my joking examples show off the dangers of stripping away too much of what makes your story interesting and unique.

Please feel free to use the comments here as a place to try your hand at weaponizing your plot. Critique one another, but remember to stay respectful and friendly! I may even chime in now and then myself, hopefully to applaud good examples. I look forward to the conversation, so thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

Joshua Unruh is the Marketing Czar for the Consortium and author of the grim fantasy Saga of the Myth Reaver: Downfall. Every Thursday he shares an article about marketing, sales, and product promotion in the new book market.

Find out more about Joshua Unruh at his author website, and check out his newest book, Saga of the Myth Reaver: Downfall, in stores now!

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