One Simple Way To Resolve Plot Issues In Your Novel

Don't just identify your draft's problem areas. Explore WHY they are issues.

Don’t just identify your draft’s problem areas. Explore WHY they are issues.

I’ve been considering the topic of content edits over the last few days, since I’m dealing with a first round of edits right now. Today I wanted to focus on something that is obvious for us writers: so obvious that we sometimes forget to do it.

When you realize that something in your plot doesn’t hold together, it’s important to ask why that is before trying to fix the story.

MASKING VERSUS CORRECTING

You see, masking a problem versus fixing it can be two different things.

When you–or your editor and beta readers–don’t focus on the reason that some aspect of your plot isn’t holding up, your chances of just masking the issue, rather than fixing it, go up.

If a character is acting inconsistently–propounding one point of view in one scene and then acting against it with no real consideration of it in a future scene, the real issue could be any number of things.

I came up against this very scenario this morning…. within three scenes a character (my protagonist, sorcerer Zate) keeps changing his mind back and forth about whether it makes sense to involve the village guard in investigating disappearances in the vicinity.

Before making changes, I considered what was at the root of this inconsistency. Why was it there? There were a number of possibilities.

  • I as the author might not have known what the character really thought when I started writing. In my personal opinion, actions speak louder than words, so when this is the case in my drafts, I try to make a character’s arguments consistent with his actions (rather than changing what he does). I try to make earlier actions consistent with later ones. Since I wrote the early stuff first, I generally didn’t know the character as well at that point and his true self came out later.
  • I might have missed a chance to focus on character development. Has the character grown past his original view of things? If this is the case, the error is not in the character’s actions. It’s in me not making clear that he has legitimately begun to think in a different way, to view life from a different (and hopefully more mature) perspective.
  • The character is a hypocrite and I don’t make that clear in my tone. People do and say things that contradict each other all the time. Characters can definitely do this. Subtle hints in tone, dialogue, and narration can successfully hint, when this is the case, that a character is a hypocrite and generally knows it and doesn’t care. Or, conversely, that he is a hypocrite and doesn’t recognize the fact. Again, the problem here is with my writing, not the plot as it stands.

It so happened my problem was the first one. I just hadn’t developed the story enough to know what my character would want to do from the start. I was writing during NaNoWriMo, and pushed ahead full steam ahead.

Which is fine…. That’s what editing is for when you write the way I do: getting everything right after the fact.

ASKING “WHY” WILL FIND YOU THE BEST FIX

After recognizing the nature of my plot problem, I saw that I needed consistency for this character, who should not be changing his mind about involving the guard, neither willy-nilly nor for a reason. I cut and altered dialogue so that Zate consistently proposes bringing in the guard as the only viable option.

So, I hope that example was helpful. I hope, if nothing else, it’s a nice reminder not to fix things at the surface level so that they APPEAR to fit together, but to go deeper and see how everything fits at the seams.

When it comes to fixing issues with your plot, you’ve got to consider why the problem is a problem in the first place.

Multiple solutions are possible, but only one is the BEST one for your story. I mean, I could have emphasized Zate being wishy-washy. I could have found some way to show that no, I didn’t forget what Zate had said about involving the guard in the last scene; he simply changed his mind.

It still would have made for  awful writing and a character who was difficult to understand.

So, I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’d like to keep up with my blog, you can sign up to follow by email at the top right of the page.

If this topic was of interest of you, you might enjoy these other posts centered around editing.

RELATED POSTS

  1. Creative Writing Workshop: Breaking Down Content Edits
  2. Taking Brainstorming One Step Farther To Aid In Editing
  3. Going “Deeper” In Your Fiction
  4. What Are Your “Writing Tics”?
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25 responses to “One Simple Way To Resolve Plot Issues In Your Novel

  1. Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    Much needed advice for me, thought I’d share. 🙂

  2. Wendy @ Escape Into Fiction

    Keeping characters consistent throughout the story can be a challenge, especially if you stop writing for a while and come back to the story without reacquainting yourself first. I’ve found that to be a problem and resolved to always read back through what I’d written if I’ve been away from it for a while. Thank goodness for content editing, though! So many uses for it and it can’t be stressed enough to aid in making a good story great!

    Excellent post!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! And I’m glad you pointed out the dangers of coming back to an unfinished draft. That has bit me too!!! I try to take the time to read back through before I jump right in. Great advice.

  3. That third option is intriguing. A character being a hypocrite tends to make them a ‘negative’ character to the reader. Although, I know a lot of nice people who will say one thing and change their mind. From a reader analysis perspective, I wonder if characters are held to a different level of morals and standards than real people. Almost as if fictional characters aren’t able to get away with hypocrisy like a real person.

    • I think we do hold characters to different standards. We expect “good” characters to be more “perfect” than real people are. We’re less likely to forgive them. And hypocrisy is definitely a negative thing…. true hypocrisy and inconsistency, as you point out, are different…. People can be inconsistent and change their minds without being hypocrites. When a character IS a hypocrite…. yeah, you’re lucky then if the character’s not one you want readers to particularly like.

    • I’ve noticed this too. It seems like we can tolerate certain personality traits or imperfections more so in real life than in a book. It is kind of odd though, because the character only exists in a book and not in real life and their behavior isn’t supposed to affect you.

  4. As the mysterious “they” always say, in the first draft we tell ourselves the story. In the revise, we tell the reader the story, now that we know what the story is about! 😀
    Characters do evolve, as you say, but inconsistency is an entirely different ball of wax. I never like it when in the second book of a trilogy a character suddenly turns out to be a jerk—usually the love interest—for the sake of adding a love triangle. Unless the author dropped clues in book 1 about the character’s darker side, I’m not going to believe that character change.

    • That’s a great point!!! Characters can change, but they have to change for a REASON. It has to make sense in a human way. It has to be believable that this person would go from point A to point B by the given path. The path has to be outlined and clear.

  5. Great article, Victoria. I did the exact same thing a wile back with one of my characters. In fact, I had two (or three) MCs and learned by this process which of the three characters the story was meant to be about (I hadn’t even determined that, it seemed). Well said…all of it. I especially like the distinction of “masking” vs. “editing.”

    • glad you liked the post! I just need to make sure I take my own advice, haha….. I worry some of what I’m doing to my draft now is masking. I’ll determine that with another readthrough when I finish this round of edits 🙂

  6. Pingback: WRITERS: The Big Benefits of Jumping to Another Section When Editing Gets Tough | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  7. This is great advice! I love all the comments as well! As a beginning YA novel writer, I’m discovering the challenge of character development. This provides great insight and advice on how to go about fixing that challenge. Thanks!

  8. You know I’ve found you have to be fearless. As I’m writing my gut starts to tell me how things should go even though I didn’t plan for it. Being fearless in writing into what may seem like a dead end really generates interest in the reader. “How the hell is she getting out of this one?” The good news is, as the writer anything is possible. I’m going along and suddenly the plot swerves off the road but hey, it’s my road so I can do anything. I’m God in my little universe, right?

  9. angel7090695001

    Good post. It made me think about my own WIP.

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