Every author has had the words flowing, the characters jiving and the story unfolding to absolute perfection when the unthinkable happens. Your grand plan has been derailed by something done or said potentially leading you in a whole new direction or stumping you. Depending on your writing style you shrug and take it in stride or have to grab a paper bag to breathe into. Either way you will need to reassess and figure out where next to go.
An unforeseen consequence, action, or revelation that takes the story a whole new direction unexpectedly. In movies it’s that character you’ve assumed for the last hour to be dead reappearing to kill off the guy you had until then assumed was the hero when in fact, by the end of said movie, you find out was actually the villain. This particular happening can be plotted, or as often happens to me, pop up from the blue. It’s workable and an awesome tool, when used correctly, to keep your readers on their toes. Don’t throw in a plot twist just for the sake of shocking everyone.
A plot twist incorrectly used will piss off your readers and ruin the story you are trying to tell. One used with skill will have your readers gasping in shock/horror/amazement that they didn’t see it coming. Becoming good enough to use a plot twist at this level takes practice and often some form of critique from an outside source prior to moving ahead. The plot twist best planted in a story is one that has been crafted in a manner that when it happens the reader realizes you’ve been warning them all along but because of your skill as a storyteller you kept them looking the wrong direction. It is a type of misdirection, but you can’t use it maliciously. Murder mysteries, mysteries and even horror genres are well known for the artfully used misdirect leading into a plot twist. Read others works to see how they have done it, with success, before attempting it yourself. But again – don’t just throw it in there for shock value. That will only lead to bad, bad things.
PAINTED INTO A CORNER
This, while dreaded and feared, is survivable but definitely harder to work out from. I’ve done this twice to date. The first was as easy as a phone call to character A from character D to fix, but took me a while to see. The next one took longer, more thought, and walking away from the story for me to see what I needed to do. I could have erased some of what I’d written to rework the scene but that would have meant losing part of the development of my characters I wasn’t sure I could find a way to work back in at a later point.
Not going to lie, had I needed to do it I would have erased back to a point I could work from to avoid that sudden jolting halt to my thought process. But that was my last, desperately final option only. Yes I was panicked, and sat there staring at the screen wondering how the characters could have led me to this point but I also knew it was with a reason. I took a step back from the characters that were seemingly locked into this stalemate and tried to view it from an outside party. Not one on site in the story, but as if an observer was watching from afar.
What could this fictional (like the others aren’t, ha!) character see happening? What could this character hear going on? What was occurring around the main characters, too focused on one another to see, that could lend to getting them free from this situation? What would happen if _____________ (fill in the blank)?
In a moment of insight while scrubbing down a pot I saw the solution. It wasn’t anything I would have thought about doing sitting staring at that blinking cursor on the screen. While staring at the cursor blinking (accusatory little bastard) I had not hope of seeing the avenue that easily allowed my characters out from their plight. It also had the added bonus of providing some additional flow into my next book in the series which you can’t sneeze at.
You make it sound so easy, Moira!
It isn’t. This is an extremely stripped down version. Basically it boils down to one thing, and one thing only. If you find yourself stumped step back, take a breath, and do something to let your mind shift gears. The more you gnaw at the problem (at least in my personal experience) the further dug into it you can become. Like when you are trying to remember the name of that guy you talked about in regards to that thing that you meant to write down. Yet now in the moment you need to remember the details all you’re getting is a big, fat blank. Get your mind onto other things and sometimes the answer you were searching for so desperately minutes before will come from out of the blue. Like a bolt of lightning.
And now I release you to enjoy the rest of your Sunday. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Easter. XO Moira Callahan