There have been volumes written on plot. After all, it is a critical element in every story. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I have picked up a few pointers on my journey in the writing world. Here are five common plot problem I’ve encountered and ways to solve them.
Starting in the wrong place:
Begin where the trouble begins. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a prologue, but you’d better be sure it relates to where the trouble started. Take out those 20 pages of back story telling us how Betty Sue wasn’t getting along with her ex and how they finally got that divorce. Instead, do something like romance author Jennifer Cruise did when one of her heroines finds a pair of underwear in her husband’s car—and they aren’t hers! No need to tell us the couple has been having marital problems. The panties say it all.
Having a weak conflict:
Conflict doesn’t mean constant bickering between your hero and heroine. Strong conflicts must have consequences and the conflict and consequences must move the story forward. If your characters can work out the problem if they just talk or can walk away from their problems then your conflict is too weak. The conflict must force them to stay together. If you let them walk away at any point you must create a complication that forces them back together.
A predictable plot:
A predictable plot has no surprises. We’ve all read and seen predictable plots in books and movies. You know where the story is going. You can guess who committed the murder. While stories like that can be enjoyable, I get the most pleasure out of a story that makes me say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” To avoid predictable plots try making a list of 20 things that could happen, then eliminate your first five items. Those are usually the most predictable things. Make sure you leave a subtle hint that foreshadows the unexpected event so the reader won’t feel cheated with the surprise. You want them to be able to go back and say, “Yeah, I see where the author set that up. It was clever.”
A plot that moves too slowly:
When your plot moves too slowly you usually have a pacing problem. Try solving the problem by adding subplots. Braid the subplots into the main story so all the plots interact with one another. Each plot line, main and subplots, need three turning points spaced approximately ¼, ½ and ¾ way through the book or through each plot line. Add twists and turns in the story to keep it going. You can also step up the pace of the story with shorter scenes and chapters, breaking up paragraphs to put more white space on the page and making sure there is tension on every page.
An ending that doesn’t satisfy:
An ending that satisfies can sell your next book, because if your reader feels cheated by your ending it’s likely they won’t give you another chance. For romance readers this mean a happily-ever-after ending, or at least the promise of one. Be sure to tie up all your plot lines before the end of the book. Generally, the last plot line to be established is the first one to be completed. With romance, you want to solve all the other problems before you solve the romance.
Do you have trouble with plotting?