5 Quick Fixes for Plot Problems

Jody Lebel
Published on: October 2013
1) The wrong-turn plot.
Your story has become implausible. Your characters are now doing something they couldn't or shouldn't be doing because earlier you made it clear that that can't/won't/ shouldn't happen. Most every writer has had this problem because as the work progresses the author's creative side heats up and new and better ideas pour out.

Quick Fix: Go back and see if you can change something earlier in the story that makes the new actions seem logical. Then weave the changes back into the story line. You may need to change 'something' in several places, or add some element that ties it all together.

Example: All of a sudden it makes good reading sense to have the main character have a child when up to now there has been no mention of children. No problem. Go back and tuck in a reference to the child here and there. Have the child be in school or at camp or visiting grandma before this chapter. Then bring him/her home to continue your story.

If an element surprised or delighted you, or made your pulse quicken, it will certainly entertain the reader. That's an element you want to keep.
2. The patchwork quilt.
Your scenes are all over the place. You know what's going on, but your reader will probably get lost.

Quick Fix: Go back to each scene that is not working and drop in some transitional links. The use of dialogue works well here.

Example: Your scene ends with our characters talking in a restaurant. The next scene opens up in a cabin in the deep forest. Go back and insert a conversation in the restaurant about their upcoming weekend in the woods. Or have them wonder if the roads are cleared yet from the heavy snow that fell last month up on the mountain. Something that will make a seamless transition.

A new writer most likely will consider rewriting everything. A seasoned writer will know to just rework the scene and add a few lines until the continuity falls back into place.

3. Hopeless scenes.
You work all week on your favorite scene. It's flawless. But it doesn't work with the overall point of the novel. It's meaningless. And worst of all, it's not redeemable.

Quick Fix: Cut it. Be brutal. Save it in a file. Someday you may find the perfect place for it in another story. Or if you absolutely love the scene, try writing your new story around it. The same principle applies to language. A beautiful line of description or turn of phrase might be lovely, but not usable for this character or this type of novel. One way to save it is by having your hero mutter the line. Or think it. Often what is pretentious when spoken aloud works when a person is talking to himself.

Example: Your tough detective probably wouldn't say the line "Love isn't all we need-love is all there is." But as he walks into a scene where an elderly couple is found dead in the tender embrace of each other's arms, an apparent double suicide because the wife was horrible ill and suffering, the cop could say it to himself. This is a deep POV (point of view) tactic that is sure to make the reader like your character.
4. The quirk.
All of a sudden your characters are acting 'off'. They conflict with the im-age you have so carefully crafted for the reader. The scene or the charac-ter doesn't ring true. So much so that it is drawing your reader out of the story.

Quick Fix: If you feel you must have your character throw a surprise at the reader, foreshadow it with a brief incident earlier in the story.

Example: Think about the character Indiana Jones in the adventure mov-ies. He's tough. He's witty. He's not afraid of anything. Until he has to go down into a pit of snakes. Then he starts to sweat. The famous line, as he's peering down at the slithering mass, is, "Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?" This little quirk actually endears the character to the reader. But don't have it come out of the blue. Place a snake in his path earlier on that he can hop over quickly with a scowl on his face.

5. The appearance of plagiarism.
You're writing a brilliant piece with an original plot idea. It's your best work yet. You're so happy with the work and the story is flowing out of you. You think, 'this could be my break-through novel'. Then you read a book, al-ready published, or see a movie, that's very similar. You didn't steal the idea. In fact you started yours first. But if you submit your novel now, readers will think you copied.

Quick Fix: Go back and twist your plot so that it is radically different. Ide-as cannot be copyrighted, otherwise, only one novel would be allowed in the world with a vampire theme. Just make sure you don't inadvertently use any of the names, phrases or character traits that were used in the other work.

Avoid the problems in the first place.
This is where a detailed outline comes in handy. Test your logic, transitions, and believability of the story arc and the characters before you flesh out the chapters.
On a scale of 1-10, how inspiring did you find this article?