Rather than rewriting an entire chapter or tossing out a manuscript, determine where your plot has become too routine or boring. By identifying the problem you can use sensible ways to revise the fragment. Look over these pitfalls so you can avoid them in future works, or use them to fix a pitfall you’ve already encountered.
1) Inconsistent Plot? Transitions/Sequences
Like plot points, the sequence of an outline can seem reasonable until it’s typed out or written down. This is easy to fix. List every scene or event you’ve written so far onto an index card. Shuffle the cards and give them to a colleague (or yourself). They put the cards into an order they think the story’s meant to go, reinventing the plot line from a reader’s perspective. While the actually story will require readjustments, the overall work transitions smoother and makes more sense to the readers.
Stuck on Particular Plot Points?
Writers constantly venture too far with certain plot points while glazing over others. Often it’s because they’re writing more about what they’re familiar with, rather than expanding on the unknown. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to research such things and search for writing references that may cover material for these plot points.
If you still feel like you’re avoiding a point it might be because it’s too far-fetched. Sometimes what seemed realistic during plotting or plot outlining can seem irrelevant or even ridiculous after the preceding scenes are written. Writers should re-read previous plot points and scenes leading to this sticky point, considering the tones, settings, and themes. Ask these questions:
- What can be revised to make the point more believable?
- What makes this plot point so critical?
- Can the main character learn or gain whatever they need in this point from another source? Sometimes it’s just a matter of raising the stakes so that character motivation is increased.
2) Too Obvious a Plot? Can the Reader Already Tell What’s Going to Happen?
Have a colleague or friend read the story. They must be brutally honest, and willing to take notes. Ask them to note wherever they seem to know what’s already coming. They’ll need to recognize what feels like déjà vu and what was just too obvious. Ask them to note overused plot points and scenes, or anything else they think they’ve read before.
A mental patient escapes by throwing something heavy through a window. Too much like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Instead, the patient walks out with a visiting grandma after convincing her he’s an old friend. – Laura Whitcomb
Re-examine the highlighted material and compile a list of possible ways to make it different. These ways shouldn’t be too detailed; you can always add detail to the scene later. Just make them short enough to fit on a sticky note for the page, or a footnote to an electronic copy. Keep that list. Later revisions may need another alternative for subplots or the story’s overall flow.
There’s always a reason the reader sees through the mystery. It’s the writer’s responsibility to figure out how the reader saw through it. Is there too much foreshadowing in the text? Did the writer previously mention the secret and forgot about it? Revise or trim away at the causes to make the overused less obvious.
3) Boring Plot?
Sometimes a story can be too far gone to be saved, but try this exercise before noting time of death. Look at your Author’s Plot Line and any manuscript work relevant to it. Isolate critical scenes connected to the plot line along with a page preceding the scene, and a page after it. Print these out.
Now imagine what other writers might do with the same plot and plot line. How would the writing techniques change? If you find this difficult, simply imagine the most unexpected thing that could happen during the point, using elements already existing in the scene. As you can see from my examples, this could mean revising characters or the events in the scene.
Plot Point:Villain calls the hero to deliver their ransom demand. Manuscript Scene: Villain uses a payphone & delivers the ransom demand (payphone trace won’t help hero). As the Villain crosses the street, he coolly nods to the city officer eyeing the crowds. The officer glances away, unnerved by the Villain’s cold eyes and bites into his doughnut.
Possibilities: Would comedy writers suddenly interrupt the scene by saying the Villain needs to pay 25 € to continue his call? Would they feature the villain unexpectedly held up by cops for jaywalking, and how would the villain respond to that?
If you’re thinking of a more comedic approach, watch this video by Cheri Steinkellner on “Finding the Funny”
Plot Point: The MC (Main Character) realizes she can’t ignore her powers after a threatening conversation with a ghost. Manuscript Scene: The MC wants to avoid using her psychic powers, freaked out by the spirits. But the ghost possesses her best friend for a verbal confrontation.
Possibilities: Would a horror writer have the bus driver channel a spirit, and keep the MC on the bus until they’re done talking? What about possessing a creepy principal that calls her into the office.
- Would mystery/espionage writers use food service instead of Wanted Ads in a newspaper? So whenever the spy ordered a specific pizza or dish he could find a note in the pizza box or fortune cookie.
- Would fantasy/action writers feature a girl having difficulty with their new wand during the confrontation with an evil sorcerer? Could they just use the wand to stab the villain and use the distraction to escape?
- Would your protagonist be stumbled upon by their mother while they tried to stop an evil sorcerer’s scheme? Could it happen in the same building as the fancy function the mother’s attending?
Make a list of these possibilities and keep three of the best. After you’ve done this for all the plot points read through the lists and choose the alternatives that flow best together. Rewrite the plot points using the alternatives, and revise its’ accompanying pages to fit the alternative scene. You shouldn’t have to do much more revisions than that, especially if you stuck to the instructions above. Other important questions to ask as you revise are:
- How can you raise the stakes?
- How can the characters become more emotional?
- How can I make the beginning more interesting?
- Is my conclusion unsatisfying?
- Should I develop more subplots?
4) Plot is all Action
Readers can become numb to a story, losing sympathy for the characters or concern for their progress. Readers need space between action scenes. Re-read your favorite action scenes, or look through a Bond or Indiana Jones novel. Take note of the conversations, how characters release their emotions; particularly after action scenes such as car chases, shootings, and physical confrontations. Keep a general note of how characters develop. List everything. Draw inspiration from the list and revise your manuscript. Insert them into the dramatic respites that come from your characters’ needs, flaws and strengths.
5) Too Shallow a Plot
If it isn’t complex, it might be too shallow. Writers can focus too much on action, descriptions, witty dialogue, metaphors, symbolism, or even character names. Sometimes writers lose focus on the story itself, veering from the plot and forgetting the important things. If the writer or reader feels the story’s too insubstantial, the writer has to step back and ask these questions.
- Why am I bothering to write this story at all?
- How and why does the story’s outcome matter to the characters?
- How do the characters change?
- How did the story affect the reader/writer as and after they read it?
6) Too Complex a Plot
If your story’s too complex or long, reread your Plot and chapter Plot notes. Look for scenes that could be combined or settings used too often. As you consider how to simplify the plot, ask yourself: “Why did your character do that? Why not simply do this?”
- Does your character have to revisit her psychic twice to speak with the ghost about their hidden fortune and clarify the motive for their later determined murder? Why couldn’t the ghost have given a motive during the first visit?
- Consider revising character motivations, which will change character motivations. Does a villain necessarily need more than one motivation, or a long background story?
Too Many Subplots Creating the Complex Plot
Sometimes it isn’t the main plot points that make the story complex; it could be the subplots’ points. So the story being weighed down by numerous story lines, which means the writer has to cut some of it. List the subplots in order of necessity, uniqueness, and length (characters with love interests, or relationships; pet or work problems; personal situations; anything that isn’t relevant to main characters.) Keep the subplots that are vital to the story out of the lists.
These are the plot pitfalls I’ve fallen into. Have you writers found any others? Let me know in the comments or Contact Me!