Plot Spackle

Basic stuff from Writer’s Digest, but sometimes when I’m stuck, that’s what I need. Thankfully, getting stuck doesn’t happen that often.

The opening questions read almost like the “guide” I give to my readers. The main things I want from a reader during my writing process are these:

  • Are there any points at which you feel like putting the book down?
  • Do the characters feel like real people behaving as people would in the situation they’re in, or are their action forced or unrealistic?
  • Anything that just doesn’t feel right?

The reader doesn’t have to offer a solution — that’s my job. And, sometimes I don’t agree that the “problem” they’ve identified is actually a problem. But, usually when a trusted reader senses something is off, they’re right that something is wrong, even if they haven’t hit the target on exactly what that Something is.

The six plot fixes offered:

  1. Keep Nabbing Ideas — basically, this is “be ready for an idea whenever it strikes.” This is probably easier than ever with smart phones, I-Pads, tablets, etc. I go the low-tech route and just carry a notebook with me wherever I go.
  2. Create Two Trajectories — The main character should have a personal problem and a plot problem, which are not the same thing. In my soon-to-be-published mystery, the main character (Leonard) has the problem of solving a murder (plot) along with multiple personal problems related to the death of his wife, the relationship with his brother, a struggling business, and a budding romance.
  3. Add another level of complication — The key here is the mantra, “Torture your protagonist.” Nothing should be easy for the main character.
  4. Add a character — I don’t agree with this one very much. Adding characters because the plot is dragging seems like a good way to pollute the story with unnecessary characters. The key here is to make sure the story is properly cast. An interlude with a fun or interesting character can be good, but a little goes a long way here.
  5. Beware of unmotivated actions — This one is huge. When I read amateur screenplays or manuscripts, I encounter this problem (plus on-the-nose dialog) constantly. As a rule, people take the minimum action possible to achieve their goal. Characters in stories are no different. While “minimum” will vary depending on the character and the situation, the action should make sense to that character. If the character has to do something to “make the story work,” there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.
  6. Change a setting — If scenes feel tired and familiar, moving to a different location can help. This is the power of subtext. A love scene can be set ANYWHERE. So can any scene. Use that power wisely to break free from the cliched settings readers have seen repeatedly.
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