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Dealing With Those Ugly Plot Problems

12 Apr Posted by in How-To Articles | 1 comment
Dealing With Those Ugly Plot Problems

One of the funniest question and answer sessions I’ve ever been to happened at a writer’s conference years ago in Little Rock. The speaker was a high-falutin Yankee author and editor. The participants were full of “How do I hit the big time?” queries. Then, one lady raised her hand and asked, “What happens when your characters just won’t do what you want them to?” I thought we would hear about how characters become real to us, and take on lives of their own. Nope. The man didn’t hesitate. “What? These aren’t real people. You’re the one in control of the situation.” After the laughter subsided, I realized the wisdom in that answer. The real problem is not characters who won’t behave. The issue is that your plot is getting away from you.

So how do you deal with those moments when a plot problem rears it’s ugly head? There are several things you can do.

1. Stop to evaluate if what is currently happening in your story will get you to the happily-ever-after you’re aiming for. If not, you can either re-evaluate your ending, or stop and back up. Maybe the situation is not the problem, it’s how your hero and heroine have reacted to it. Can you show part of their character while they deal with this unexpected obstacle? If not, do away with it. Back up to where it came in, and start again.

2. Is the problem that everything is coming too easy? Not enough struggle and suspense to keep the reader interested? Throw in something your hero and heroine have no control over. A natural disaster is always good. This can be used to show how important they are to each other, and the strength of their faith. When the going gets tough, the story gets going.

3. Maybe you have a sub-plot that is taking over the book. Once, I had to cut about 30,000 words for a submission that had been requested at a conference. I found a character and a story line that I could completely eliminate without damaging the main story. Sure, I’d had fun writing it, but it really didn’t hurt anything to take all references to this person and her quilting bee (literally) completely out. The editor didn’t want the story, so next time I rework this one, maybe I’ll put it back in!

4. But seriously- what about those characters who just haul off and do something really, well, out of character? Stop and decide why this happened. Was it just because, you, the all-powerful author were having a bad day? Or was it because there was a side of the character that really needed to come out? Strange and unusual behavior can be a part of real life. Fiction, though, has to be more believable than real life. Handle these things with care, and make sure they make sense somehow to the rest of the story. If you jar the reader too much, she might just put the book down.

One of the best methods for keeping your plot in check is to make a chart with the major events for each character. Make sure they all contribute to the final goal. If not- get rid of them. You’re the one in charge, after all!




  1. Avery Cove04-13-12

    Great post Jenny! I believe I’ll print it out and put it with every new story I write until I’ve got it memorized–very wise!

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