Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Worldcon Treasures: My Dragon Torched the Prince and Other Plot Problems

Sometimes plotting and characters can collide in so explosive a fashion that a writer finds himself facing a dead end before the story is finished. So what do you do if the dragon torches your hero? How do you handle it if the love interest gets taken out halfway through the story when you intended a happily ever after? What’s an author to do when their hero takes out the villain before the story reaches its true conclusion? In short, what do you do when you write yourself into a corner?

Panelists Stina Leicht, Keffy Kehrli, Mary Robinette Kowal, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, and Moshe Feder in this year’s Worldcon, My Dragon Torched the Prince and Other Plot Problems, had numerous solutions. Hearing them talk about them made for perhaps the most fun of all the panels I attended. They were so energetic, funny, and gave me the material for tons of notes, which I’m now sharing with you in a slightly less chaotic form.


  • Look in the scene’s environment. What can your characters use to get out of a situation that you might not have thought of?
  • Bounce ideas off another person.
  • Read something related to your story to spark ideas.
  • Work backwards. Go from the point where you met the dead end and figure out what you’d need to change earlier on to get a different result.
  • You can change it. Don’t let plot become a little darling. You can always change things, even plot.
  • Step away from writing and do something physical, something that doesn’t require you to think.
  • Ask someone else for an idea.
  • Talk to your husband/wife/etc.
  • If you don’t have a trusted sounding board, write in stream of consciousness and ask yourself questions.
  • Don’t panic because your readers won’t know you had these problems.
  • Stina Leicht said my favorite thing of the whole panel, “Dare to suck.”
  • All the methods to deal with writing ourselves into a corner are methods that allow our subconscious to work.
  • There are two types of plot problems, and figuring out which is occurring can help you solve it:
    • Physical plot problems: Something in the story’s environment causes the problem.
    • Emotional plot problems: The characters make choices that trap them.
  • Know your characters so that they will act in ways that are right for them.
  • Conversely, sometimes characters will act in a certain way that doesn’t seem right because the author hasn’t written in the character’s motivations, so put in those motivations.
  • Trust the story.
  • The first person you tell the story to is yourself, so write what you want to hear in a story.
  • Back up to the last point you were excited about the story, toss everything out after it, and rewrite from there.
  • Remember that, especially in science fiction and fantasy, plot and setting are tied together.
  • Get close to your characters and try things out yourself.
  • Sometimes, it’s okay to abandon an idea and try something else.
  • Come back to it later.
  • If the story’s premise or background is flawed, try changing the tone.
  • If a character doesn’t serve the story, fire him or change something in his background so he does serve the story.
  • Write a scene from multiple points of view to see what works best and get new ideas.

  • Look at things in your world (real life) and add to them or alter them when putting them in your story.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Don’t overload a story with terminology, but when you use a term, explain it at least once.
  • Less is more: Give the minimum amount of information to understand a scene.
  • Conversely, sometimes things get confusing because there aren’t enough details, and when a reader is confused, he gets bored.
  • Details in a story should come from the point of view character, not those you found interesting in your research.
  • What you leave out of a story is just as important as what you leave in.
  • Trust your reader to fill in the details. This makes your reader feel smart, and they like that.

Ultimately, all this comes down to three major things: Own the fact that you can change things in your story, find a way to free your subconscious, and deeply understand your characters.

Thanks for joining me today. Next Friday, we’ll continue this series with a look a successful book launches. Until then, join me Monday for the next segment of our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we cover a great book and learn how to tell a successful story using it as an example.

(For anyone who wants a copy of The Way of Kings to follow along with the read, it’s currently on Amazon Kindle for $1.99.)

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