Plot is the external events in your story. And sometimes, we write ourselves into a corner or we get bogged down in the “muddy middle” of the story. This post offers FOUR ways to boost your plot when the inevitable slowdown occurs.
First of all, I want to say that we’re often too nice to our characters. We want them to have the perfect life and outcome that we will never have in real life. But that is BO-RING to readers.
So, when your story feels stuck, ask yourself: “What would make things harder for my character right now?”
Yes, harder. And I’ll talk more about that in booster number three.
Take your characters to a new setting. Think of a place that will add conflict or create obstacles.
For example, if your characters need to have a private conversation take them to a coffee shop and have someone they know stop by their table to chat.
Or if your teenager is trying to flirt with that cute bad boy, put her at the store with her mother who does NOT approve of him. Instant source of conflict, right?
Many times, this sort of move will create action and that helps readers re-engage if you think the story is slowing down.
Bring another character aboard
What you’re looking for here is a character that has goals that conflict with those of your main character.
Or maybe this person has different motivations than the main character and they might interfere with the outcome and that increases the tension in the scene.
This doesn’t have to be a new character. And it doesn’t have to be the antagonistic character. Some of my favorite examples of this “trick” are when the sidekick or the sibling becomes this character.
Sure, if the goal is to get a promotion, you can bring in a co-worker who’s also applying for the position. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if the main character’s best friend objects to the promotion because it will mean less time for the main character to spend with her, on a shared project or with her kids?
The next booster will give you a method for sussing out the best possible character and method for your story.
List possible obstacles and events
In one of my favorite writing craft resources, author James Scott Bell suggests creating an exhaustive list of things that could happen next. Yes, even outlandish ideas should be on this list.
He advises to line out the most obvious possibilities. Then choose something readers won’t expect but that still fits organically with the plot. Yes, this might mean going back to layer in foreshadowing, but that will be worth it if your readers are surprised and delighted.
For the examples above, maybe the teenager in the grocery store ducks into the restroom, but really detours to the aisle where her wannabe crush is. Guess what? He’s standing in front of condoms, or tampons, or some other embarrassing item. Or maybe he’s by the fresh fish case and she’s struggling not to gag on the stench.
Or perhaps the friend who stops at the coffee shop table drops information that the main character wanted to withhold. Or they could spill coffee and cut the meeting short, thereby suspending the tension around the conversation that didn’t happen but needed to.
I’m not a huge advocate for writing prompts. And most of the time, they aren’t going to help you unstick your story.
But sometimes, if you’re having a dearth of good ideas, writing about something non-related can stimulate the muse enough that she’ll inspire you with the perfect next scene.
There are plenty of online spaces that offer up writing prompts. But if you want to find a prompt that applies to your story, check out this one from Reedsy. Or this one that lets you choose basic parameters.
One of my favorite ways to get unstuck is to journal from the perspective of my narrator. I grab a pencil and spiral notebook and ask my character, “What are you feeling? What do you want?”
Then I write their responses in first person in the notebook. I keep writing until I feel like I know what to write next and have a good sense of their voice and motivations.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of tips to boost your plot when it gets bogged down. What tips have worked for you?