In the course of writing and rewriting my first four novels, I have encountered five signs of a plot gone wrong. It isn’t always noticeable to Beta readers—the alternate routes are sometimes enjoyable, and they do further the plot, but they do so in a way that harms the overall structure. I am sure there are other signs, and I’d love to hear what warning signs you’ve found in your own writings.
- Plot Complications. These are the ones most of us think of first: anything that throws the story off—family ties that don’t work, geographic locations that prove problematic, villains that are truly invincible, etc. If you want the story to go one way, and elements of the story prevent it from doing that, then you have a problem.
- Disappearance of Major Characters. This doesn’t always crop up in a single book, but in a series, if you find a major character unintentionally drifting out of the plot, it should be a red flag that something is off. Perhaps the main character needs some tweaking, but they shouldn’t constantly be in the room and not talking, not interacting, not doing a thing…unless you are planning for them to turn into a minor character, that is.
- Unhappy Couples. Sometimes, this is exactly what your story calls for, but if the couples are supposed to be madly in love with each other and aren’t, this is a bad sign. Either they shouldn’t have gotten together in the first place, or they just need to break up, but if they aren’t remaining a happy couple, this should be a sign to rethink them as a couple…no matter how much you want them together.
- Boring Scenes. If you, or your Beta readers, find certain portions of the book dull—if you don’t want to go back to those scenes during the rewrite-and-edit-phase because they aren’t as fun as the rest of the book—you need to sit up and take notice. Rather than skimming through it, you probably need to rethink and rework it.
- General Dissatisfaction. If, after writing something, you don’t like it—even if it’s fun, or dramatic, or fulfills your general plotting goals—and after getting positive feedback, you still don’t like it, it could be your inner writer telling you “this could be better.”
Whenever you encounter these signs, start thinking outside the box. Explore taking the plot a different direction: what if this happened instead of that? What if that character got wounded here? Or ill? Or died? Or what if, instead of dying, this character lived? What if this couple ended up together instead of that one?
Take some time away from writing and just daydream and see what you come up with. Then, write out a couple different takes on the “problematic” section, changing up the events and scenes, and see which, if any you like. Instead of running from the problem, explore it and see what you can discover.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren