I start every book with unbridled enthusiasm.  I have the perfect starting point, characters I'm interested in, and a kick ass climax.  I usually have two or three scenes along the way that are already begging to be written.

All I'm missing is everything in between.

I've overwhelmed and terrified by these missing links, these scenes and chapters that will (hopefully) propel the reader through the story, if only I can figure out what they are.  This is why I hate first drafts.  Blank pages and missing plot points are the bane of my writing life.  

How do I connect the dots between the inciting incident and the first turning point?  What scenes do I need along the way?

If I knew that, maybe I wouldn't hate first drafts so much.

But I am coming to terms with plot.  For one thing, in both books I've completed, I've ended up with too much plot: too many subplots, character arcs and plot twists that detract from the real story.  So I've come to terms with the fact that I will not only end up with a plot, I'll probably have to cut back on the second pass.

Where do these plot points come from?


Just like good scenes are full of conflict and tension, so are good plots. I've put together a list of some common types of conflicts that can be used to fill in those blank pages and connect the dots. 

Conflict between characters.  Conflicts between characters are vital to moving the plot forward.  Character conflicts can range from simply wanting different things or having different agendas to an all out battle royale.  These conflicts aren't limited to protagonists and antagonists.  In my stories, which have strong romantic themes, the main conflict is usually between the two protagonists, the heroine and hero. But there are also conflicts with parents, friends, teachers, rivals, bosses and, oh yeah, don't forget the actual enemies.

Setbacks.  Also known as complications.  It's not enough to hurl a bunch of obstacles in the characters' way.   Some of the obstacles should be insurmountable.  Force the characters to find another way around.  I have a name for characters that bound over every obstacle without difficulty- boring.  Readers are sadists.  They like to see characters suffer.  Writers should be sadists too.  Make your characters earn their victories, by losing a few rounds along the way. 

Unintended Consequences.    Be careful what you wish for...  The unintended consequence is a subspecies of the setback, but it's what happens when a character overcomes an obstacle or accomplishes a goal to find that the outcome is not what was expected.  So the characters get exactly what they think they want or need, reach a milestone, or even solve the main problem- only to discover that the results aren't at all what they expected.  Instead, things get even worse.   The unintended consequence can work as a great plot twist, simultaneously raising the stakes and keeping the characters (and readers) on their toes.

Internal Conflicts.  The best plotted novels give the reader a break every now and then, by providing some quiet moments where the reader and the characters can catch their breath.  But that doesn't mean there isn't conflict.  Internal conflicts are the mental and emotional stumbling blocks that keep a character from reaching their goal.  They're a mix of backstory, character flaws and psychological hurdles that must be overcome.  Find some places in the story to up the internal conflict, to have the character's worst fears realized, to challenge them to face their past or confront their future head on.  If the action and external problems are the bones of your story, internal conflicts are the heart and soul.  It is the characters' emotional struggles and psychological growth that makes a story resonate.

Feel your way through the plot by focusing on different types of conflict and using them to get from point A to point B to point C.

A good starting point is this conflict worksheet:

What does the main character want? 
What is he/she afraid of?
What obstacles are in the way?
How will the obstacles be overcome?
Which obstacles can't be overcome?
What goals does the main character need to accomplish along the way?
What are some unintended consequences of achieving some of them?
What psychological barriers are keeping the character from his or her goal?
What needs to happen before the character can overcome these barriers?
Who/what prevents the character from achieving his/her goal?
How does the character defeat the person/thing that stands in the way?
How does the person/thing defeat the main character?
Who helps the main character achieve his/her goal?
What does the main character think they know that is wrong?
What happens to reinforce this belief?
How is it turned on its head?

Then go ahead and torture them.  Make them face their worst fears.  Put them in their darkest hours.  Pit friend against friend, lover against lover, man against fate.

Go ahead.  Plot. 

Make them earn their story.


Thank you, Talia! As ever, you've distilled what I need to address in a few simple questions and some fabulous bullet points. I'm definitely coming back to this post. Often.

Wonderful post, chock full of excellent and useful information to think about. Thank you so much!

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers