Common Plotting Problems and their Solutions
Scenes that just don’t work, uncooperative characters, plots that take a wrong turn...what's a writer to do? Any of these situations is enough to make a writer be tempted to toss their manuscript aside. Yet, many common plotting problems can be remedied by a little thought and revision. Here are some suggested solutions.
When The Next Scene Doesn’t Work
Many writers do not know until they begin the actual writing that a certain scene or planned event just isn’t going to work. The idea for the scene may sound fine in the plot outline, but in the actual writing it may backfire because the author hasn’t thoroughly thought it through.
For example, Mike sees an employee steal something at work. The employee begs him not to tell. What is Mike going to do next? The plan was to have him turn the employee in, but that seems too simple a resolution.
Solution: Try alternatives. Pull the plot along by making two or three rows of different scenarios. Each different choice produces a different outcome. Mike tells the boss, but the employee turns the tables and accuses Mike of the theft; Mike is tempted to blackmail the employee with his knowledge; the employee threatens Mike and says if he tells he’ll get even.
Writers must keep thinking up alternatives until the right one comes along. When stuck on a particular scene, it sometimes helps the author to take a break or sleep on it. Sometimes the subconscious mind will work overnight and right path will appear clear in the morning.
The Characters Won’t Cooperate
The writer has decided that Joe, a minor character, is going to get into a fatal accident in Chapter 9, but Joe has other plans. He refuses to die or be written out of the story.
Solution: An author should always listen to the characters when they speak. They usually are trying to tell something important. The subconscious mind often works in strange ways. When an event feels wrong, the writer shouldn’t be afraid to explore alternatives. Maybe Joe doesn’t die but everyone thinks he’s dead. An alternate course of action, something unexpected, might deepen the plot.
The Plot Takes a Wrong Turn Somewhere
Many writers think they have their plot pinned down to the last twist and curve, only to find in the actual writing that the entire structure has fallen like a house of cards. Not only doesn’t the next scene work, the entire book is unsatisfying and doesn’t come to any good conclusion.
Solution: There is something wrong with the plot structure. The author must go back and find the place where it went wrong and takes steps to remedy it. First, the author should take some time off to distance himself from the manuscript. Identifying the place where the book veers away from its best course is often easier to find after some time has passed. Reviewing the story's key events can be of help in determining whether the novel has enough goals and conflict, and if they fall in the right place.
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