“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”
Whether you outline first or simply plunge in by the seat of your pants, there may come a time when you realize your story engine is failing and you need a jumpstart, fast, before it dies an ignoble death long before The End. As I write Book Four of my Mercy Carr mystery series with minimal preparation—as opposed to the detailed scene list that I usually write by—I find myself debating the pros and cons of various plot thrusters. While Chandler’s admonition to bring in a man with a gun may very well work, here are a dozen other ideas to rev up your plot.
1) Kill off a character.
You can go small, and do away with minor characters, or go big, and have major characters go to their graves. George R.R. Martin kills off some of his most beloved characters—and readers still come back for more.
2) Add a goat.
Or a cat or a dog or a horse. Mercy Carr’s sniffer dog Elvis always plays a key role in my stories, but I try to feature other four-legged characters as well, not only cats and dogs but also the wild creatures in the Vermont wilderness where the novels are set—including deer, bear, moose, wild turkeys, and more. So far, Book Four boasts a lot of goats.
3) Weave in an epic fail.
The harder and faster and farther your hero falls, the greater his effort to regain the upper hand must be. Take that plot point where you anticipated your protagonist would triumph and have him fail instead. Lots of story juice there.
4) Call forth a natural disaster.
Play Prospero—you are the sorcerer of your own stories, after all—and summon a storm. Or an earthquake, landslide, avalanche, wildfire, tsunami—there are all manner of threats. Note: Do wait on that pandemic plot, as no one wants to read about lethal viruses right now because, yes, it is too soon.
5) Call forth a manmade disaster.
Like a natural disaster, only our own fault—toxic waste dump, cyber-attack, gas leak, oil spill, bridge collapse, factory explosion, nuclear waste dump, etc. Note: Given climate change, you could argue that natural disasters are manmade, too. Either way, plenty of potential plot chargers here.
6) Promote your back-up villain.
You’ve got a villain. She’s Hannibal Lecter and Cruella de Vil and Darth Vader all rolled into one—good on you. But a back-up villain can add an extra punch to your plot, not to mention an element of surprise. So take that evil sidekick and kick him up a notch. Bam!
7) Get somebody pregnant.
If that someone is your heroine, good. If it’s your heroine’s teenage daughter or her husband’s mistress, even better. Whether your protagonist is happy about it or not, pregnancy inevitably complicates your plot.
8) Put a child in trouble.
Cute kids in peril = plot enhancer. Especially when your protagonist must pull out all the stops to save said cute kids.
9) Set up a honeypot.
Have your protagonist sleep with the wrong person. Worse, let her fall in love with Mr. Wrong.
10) Ghost a character.
Take a character and have him disappear. Into the proverbial thin air. And charge your heroine with finding him.
11) Engineer a betrayal.
Have your hero’s best friend or lover or brother or even mother betray him. In a big way. And let the plot sparks fly!
12) Send in the clowns.
This is comic relief on steroids. We’re talking killer clowns, as in Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a B-movie classic, just ask my friend and fellow writer John K. Waters, who introduced me to this film). In other words, a goofy character who looks innocent enough, but….
13) Start a war.
Sure, you’ve got real wars, with real combatants, as in the Nazis and the Allies. But consider the Hatfields and the McCoys. Eve and Villanelle. The Montagues and the Capulets. Thor and Loki. The Greasers and the Socs. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Ferris Bueller and Principal Rooney. Get your own skirmish started.
What do you do when you need to jumpstart your story? Join us on Facebook and we’ll discuss….