Novel Plot Problems & How To Overcome Them.

So, you have an excellent idea for a novel, do you? That is fantastic! Now, where to begin to get that astonishing story down on paper. You could either just let it grow organically, or you could outline everything down to the last nut and bolt. Which either way you proceed you are going to run into plot problems—seriously, not kidding. How do you solve these problems without letting writer’s block jam your brain? There are many avenues to take when dealing with those pesky plot issues, but the following articles are some of the best I have come across in dealing with these glitches that pop up in our writing and planning. I hope you soak up the information like I did because it has helped me out of a few jams in the past while writing. Below is a YouTube vlog about how to fix plot holes in your story—thought it would be a nice added extra tidbit😉

The 3 Questions That Will Solve Every “Plot Problem” You’ll Ever Have

By: Steven James

The following excerpt is from Steven James’ book Story Trumps Structure. Prior to the 2018 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, Steven will present a special hands-on workshop that helps writers dig into the concepts he presents in his book. Don’t miss this exciting special event.

Whether you’re an outliner or an organic writer, the solution to almost every plot problem can be found by answering three simple questions.
Initially, most authors land somewhere on the continuum between outlining and organic writing. If you try to fit your story into a predetermined number of acts or a novel template, you’re more of an outliner.
If you don’t care how many acts your story has as long as you let your characters struggle through the escalating tension of your story in a believable way, you’re more organic.

Both organic writing and outlining have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. (Yes, even organic writing can, in some cases, lead you astray if you don’t let all three questions listed on the next page guide your writing.) Outliners often have great high-concept climax ideas. Their stories might escalate exponentially and build to unforgettable endings. However, characters will sometimes act in inexplicable ways on their journey toward the climax. You’ll find gaps in logic. People will do things that don’t really make sense but that are necessary to reach the climax the writer has decided to build toward.

Organic writers are usually pretty good at crafting stories that flow well. The events are believable and make sense. However, sometimes the narratives can wander, and although the stories are believable, they might also end up being anticlimactic as they just fizzle out and don’t really go anywhere.

So outlining often results in problems with continuity and causality, while organic writers often stumble in the areas of focus and escalation.
Outliners tend to have cause-effect problems because they know where they need to go but don’t know how to get there. Organic writers tend to have directionality problems because they don’t necessarily know where they’re going, but things follow logically even if they lead into a dead end.

… [W]hichever approach you’ve been using, you can build on its strengths and solve its weaknesses by asking the following three questions and letting the answers influence the direction of your story.
1. “What would this character naturally do in this situation?”
This focuses on the story’s believability and causality—everything that happens in a novel needs to be believable even if it’s impossible, and because of the contingent nature of fiction, everything needs to follow causally from what precedes it.
2. “How can I make things worse?”
This dials us in to the story’s escalation. Readers always want the tension to tighten. If the
story doesn’t build, it’ll become boring and they’ll put it aside.
3. “How can I end this in a way that’s unexpected and inevitable?”
Here we’re shaping the scenes, and the story as a whole, around satisfaction and surprise. So the story has to move logically, one step at a time, in a direction readers can track—but then angle away from it as they realize that this new direction is the one the story was heading in all along. However, readers don’t want that ending to come out of nowhere. It needs to be natural and inherent to the story.

The first question will improve your story’s believability. The second will keep it escalating toward an unforgettable climax. The third will help you build your story, scene by twisting, turning scene.

Organic writers are good at asking that first question; outliners are good at asking the second one. As far as the third, organic writers will tend to have believable endings and outliners will tend to have unpredictable ones.


The way you approach writing will determine which of those questions you most naturally ask and which ones you need to learn to ask in order to shape effective stories. …


I should mention that, in regard to the first of the three key questions listed above, some writing instructors teach that we should ask ourselves “If I were this character in this situation, what would I do?” rather than “What would this character naturally do in this situation?”


There’s a subtle but significant difference. One of these questions puts you in the scene, and the other emphasizes the character’s response.


It’s important that you move yourself out of the story and let the characters you’ve created take over. I don’t want to imagine myself as the character. I want to observe the character responding as she would, not as I would if I were her. Step further away from yourself, and remove your own views as much as possible from the situation.

Incidentally, the first two questions also help authors who strive to write books that are either character-centered or plot-centered (remember, however, that no story is character-driven or plot-driven because all stories are tension-driven).

The first question helps plot-centered authors develop deeper characterizations. The second question helps character-centered authors develop plots that are more gripping.
The central struggles of the main character (internal, external, and interpersonal) will only be ultimately satisfied at the story’s climax. As we write the scene-by-scene lead-up, we are constantly deepening and tightening the tension in those three areas.

Some climaxes implode because they lack believability, others because they don’t make sense or they’re too predictable, others because they don’t contain escalation of everything else in the story and end up being disappointing.

Let me reiterate: The solution to most of these problems is keeping the promises you’ve made to your readers by maintaining believability, creating endings that are inevitable and yet unexpected, tightening the tension, ratcheting up the action, relentlessly building up the suspense, heightening the stakes, and escalating to a finish that reaches its pinnacle at just the right moment for the protagonist and for your readers.

Let those three questions filter through every scene you write.
1) “What would this character naturally do in this situation?”
2) “How can I make things worse?”
3) “How can I end this in a way that’s unexpected and inevitable?”
If you’re attentive to them, they’ll crack open the nut of the tale for you.


Original Article:



How to solve plot problems with a simple technique

By: Shalon

In this article, you’ll learn a simple, yet powerful technique to solve all of your plot problems. If you’ve come here from Wattpad, you probably just want the Solving Plot Problems Template that you can use for your own plot problem today.

Especially in science fiction and fantasy, or in any longer story with a large number of elements or characters to keep track of, there are the inevitable plot problems that can really stump you.

I’m sure you’ve experienced it…. “If Character X does this, then that will affect Character Y in this way, which doesn’t work because people in World Z don’t do that kind of thing. But if Character X doesn’t do that, then how does she do it?”

In my own experience, these plot problems can be so severe and frustrating that I can give up working on my novel for weeks at a time, waiting for the answers to “hit” me like a bolt of magical inspiration lightening. Sometimes they did hit me — sometimes in the strangest places, like in the shower, or driving my car, or just after waking up. But often they didn’t hit me and I was left with plot problems that felt like I’d never be able to solve. EVER.

This can lead to an incredibly defeating bout of the dreaded WRITERS BLOCK!
Then I discovered this technique, which I’m about to show you. And now, whenever I run into a plot problem, I use it, and it ALWAYS works. I’m not lying. 100% of the time, it works.

This simple technique will take you less than 30 minutes to learn how to use for your own story.
At the Surrey International Writer’s Conference this last fall, I took a course with Larry Brooks. He talked about how writers suffer from magical thinking; that the writing we do is often so difficult that we believe it is imbued with magical qualities. What he stressed over and over was that most of the time, the first solution we come up with is NOT the best one. It might be okay. It might even ‘work,’ but it might not be the BEST POSSIBLE SOLUTION. So how do you find that solution? Read on!


How it works

Basically, this system let’s you track your ideas, in a type of mathematical coding way. You open up each problem like a box, and pull out the boxes inside the box, and then you open up those boxes, and pull out any other boxes you find inside them. Each box is a plot problem, or a snag that you run into in your WIP.

Interested? Here’s how you do it. You might think you can just do this your own, way, but I highly recommend you just follow the instructions.

Open a fresh word document and at the top put the problem as a title. Save the file with the name of the problem.
Now, hit enter and on the next line start writing about the problem. Just as if you were telling a writer friend about it (someone who actually cared). Write as much as you want. I usually just write a few sentences, but sometimes I write an entire page worth of crap, depending on how big the problem is and how much it is affecting other characters or elements of the story.

Now, below your paragraph explaining the problem, create a bullet list. Write down all the possible solutions to your problem. One solution for each bullet. Open your mind and try to forget some of the more obvious stuff you might have been stuck on. Just really try to brainstorm. If you want, you can ask a friend to help. You should have at least 5 solutions.

For example, I actually did this just a while ago with the problem/question, how does Character X get pregnant? I came up with 5 possible solutions:
• Falls in love, has sex, gets pregnant
• Doesn’t fall in love, but has sex, and gets pregnant
• Gets artificially inseminated, gets pregnant
• Gets raped, gets pregnant
• Wakes up one day and finds out she’s pregnant, doesn’t know how it happened.

So, once you have your list of potential solutions, hit enter after each solution and indent that bullet. For each solution, write a sentence or two with what’s good about that solution and what’s not good about it.
For example:
• Falls in love, has sex, gets pregnant
• I like this because it’s romantic and what I would wish for this character, but I don’t think it would work because she isn’t the type to fall in love, plus she is ostracized by this community and I can’t imagine anyone breaking the social code and falling in love with her.

Do this with all of your potential solutions. Try to be open-minded. Don’t just dismiss any potential solution. Remember, the solution IS there, you just need to find it, and for some reason you can’t see it because you’re blinded by your prejudice. It’s like looking for your car keys that you KNOW you haven’t lost, but you can’t find them anywhere. This technique is like suddenly looking down and seeing that your keys are on the coffee table and they’ve been there all along. You were looking in the wrong place.

Okay, so now you have your list of potential solutions, but you also have a bunch of reasons for why each solution might work and might not work. This is where it gets interesting.

Hit enter below each explanation of each solution (why it works and doesn’t work), and you will create another bullet. Indent this bullet in once. It’s important to use bullets because, as you can see, your page is getting full of writing, and the bullets are the only way to visually track your progress. This is like the box. Each bullet is a box inside the box. You’re identifying plot problems connected to other plot problems, so you can find the solution.

So indent the next bullet once, to show that you’re talking about the paragraph above (about why it works and does not work). For each reason that it doesn’t work, create ANOTHER bullet.

For example:
• Falls in love, has sex, gets pregnant
• I like this because it’s romantic and what I would wish for this character, but I don’t think it would work because she isn’t the type to fall in love, plus she is ostracized by this community and I can’t imagine anyone breaking the social code and falling in love with her.
• She’s not the type to fall in love.
• No one would break the social code.
Now, for each of your bullets that show why that solution wouldn’t work, begin to brainstorm all the possible ways to get around that potential problem.
For example:
• Falls in love, has sex, gets pregnant
• I like this because it’s romantic and it’s what I would wish for this character, but I don’t think it would work because she isn’t the type to fall in love, plus she is ostracized by this community and I can’t imagine anyone breaking the social code and falling in love with her.
• She’s not the type to fall in love.
• Maybe she changes. BUT HOW? I mean, what would cause her to change?
• Maybe she meets someone who is an outsider like her.
• Maybe someone hypnotizes her or gives her a love potion.
• Maybe she hits her head, gets amnesia, and forgets that she’s a cold-hearted bitch.
• No one would break the social code.
• Okay, same like above, maybe it’s an outsider who comes in. HOW?
• Maybe there is someone who is strong enough to risk it. BUT WHO? WHY?
• Maybe the social code gets broken down or betrayed by someone? BUT HOW?

Go through all of your solutions like this. You’ve reached the third layer deep. By this time, you’re going to have lots and lots of ideas floating around. You probably have at least 3 pages of bulleted writing.

Some of the potential solutions will feel ‘right’ and you might have had your aha moment already. It just clicked. But sometimes the aha moment hasn’t come because the solution to the problem you really like is tied in with other plot elements, and giving you OTHER problems. So, now you need to work through those….

If that’s the case, see above how I wrote new questions/problems in ALL CAPS? That’s because I want to be able to see them easily. Being able to visualize the problems and solutions in this way really helps me keep track of what is clearly a rabbit hole of information. Besides using bullets and ALL CAPS, I will also often highlight with green the solutions that seem the most promising. And red for the the problems that I still have. I strike out any solutions that absolutely don’t work.

If you haven’t had your aha moment, don’t worry. Yes this is taking time, but believe me, if you persist you will find your solution. THE solution that works for YOUR story.
So, take the questions in ALL CAPS, and start an entirely new paragraph. If you want, you can create a new bullet and indent it to deal with the ALL CAP questions/problems, but I prefer a new paragraph to have a fresh start. You can deal with one problem at a time, or you can copy all the the ALL CAP problems and create new paragraphs so you don’t forget to explore them. Then do the whole exercise over again. Come up with 3-5 possible solutions for HOW or WHY.

• Maybe she changes. BUT HOW? I mean, what would cause her to change?
• Solution 1
• Solution 2
• Solution 3

I won’t keep going with examples, because I hope you catch my drift. By this point you’ll be 4 layers deep into your novel and I can guarantee that you will be learning stuff through this that you never thought you would, related to completely different characters and completely different plot problems because… it’s all connected.
So, good luck, and hope this technique helps you as much as it has helped me! Please let me know how I can improve this document, or if my technique works for you, or if you don’t understand.

Feel free to download this Solving Plot Problems Template that you can use for your own plot problems today.


Original Article:


Write Fearlessly

About G.Edward Smith

A stranger in a strange land...
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