My character walks into a bar and then…I got nothin’

You’re writing along at a good clip. The scenes are action packed. Your character is adorable and the dialogue is sheer genius. Then it happens. You hit a brick wall. The subplots aren’t coming together. Mr. Main Character is standing around not knowing which way to go or why. Plot problems. I hate them. Other common problems have easy fixes. Is your character superficial? Add a painful childhood secret. Is your story starting to drag?  Raymond Chandler had the answer, “Bring in a guy with a gun.”

Many times there are no easy fixes for plot problems. Sometimes plot problems equal major rewrites. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me in the past when I’m stuck fixing my plot:

Flow it Out: When I was a computer programmer I created visual flow charts of shapes, lines and arrows to document how users would move through the functionality of my software applications. It helped me keep track of thousands of lines of code.  Sub-plots in a novel may not be as complex as large financial management applications, but they can become as unwieldy to manage if not carefully planned out. If these sub-plots have gotten away from you, take the time to flow them out. Compare them to each other and against the main plot to see where you went wrong.

Take a walk: You’ve flowed out the sub-plots, but you’re still not seeing the problem or the fix. Sometimes the best thing to do at this point is turn off the laptop. Now put on a comfortable pair of shoes and grab your iPod. Take a walk. Let your subconscious do its thing.

Keep the faith: You’ll figure things out. It might take a few attempts, but the creative you knows what needs to happen. Don’t be afraid to put the manuscript aside and work on another project for a while. You’ll be refreshed with new ideas when you come back.


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