How to Fix a Dead-End Plot

You’ve either made detailed plans or decided to let inspiration take you wherever it wants to go. Your novel is becoming a reality as you write your draft – until the crash. Suddenly, you discover a problem with your plans; inspiration takes you down a dead-end. What do you do next? Here are some tips to help you find a way out of your literary dead-end.

If you have hit a dead-end in your plot, you should first consider the bigger picture. Take stock of where you are and what you have at present. With this information, you can begin to assess the damage and create a new plan. The first decision you’ll want to make is whether you want to salvage what you have or brainstorm something new. Even if your dead-end is causing you trouble, it can inspire a better plotline than you originally had.

If you decide to backtrack out of your problem, your next step will be to find where you veered off in your writing. Whatever follows that point will need to be rewritten to bring you back to the right path. It will take extra time, but the work will get you back where you belong so that you can continue making progress.

There are many possibilities for you if you decide to take your troubled scenes and create something new. What you have might not work now, but you can rewrite it so that it fits within your novel better. Brainstorm and consider multiple ways the plot can unfold. For example, when I first wrote my draft, the two main characters were supposed to meet in a serendipitous moment. It sounded perfect, until I wrote it out. It felt a little too much like stalking the way it played out. So, I took the problem scene and rewrote it with a different back story. The characters now meet earlier in the plot in a much more everyday situation, and I changed the cause of their conflict so that the situation is still interesting.

It can take some time to revise what you have to become a new plot. It is helpful to use an outline in this instance because you can easily compare what you have with whatever your brainstorming creates. You can see where scenes are going and how they fit together.

Sometimes, the big picture is not the cause of your dead-end. Your trouble is in the details. Hundreds of details go into creating an engaging novel that readers will enjoy. Each detail plays a part, even if it seems insignificant by itself.

One detail to think about if you reach a dead-end is writing style. I know this sounds like an editor’s job, but it does matter during the drafting stage as well. The language you use creates the setting, determines the tone, and even decides your characters’ personalities. If your writing style is at odds with your plot, something will eventually go wrong. If your novel isn’t feeling right, but you can’t pinpoint one exact problem, it might be the language you’re using. You should consider the tone and meaning of the words you are using to see if it’s taking your plot in a direction you didn’t intend.

Another consideration is word count. It isn’t a big concern at the drafting stage, but you should keep in mind that your word count acts as a constraint on your plot. Are you allowing enough time for your plot to naturally unfold, or are you rushing it to fit the word count? Or maybe you are at a dead-end because part of the plot has dragged on for too long? The space each scene takes up can help you decide what might need to change. Maybe you should allot more space for setting up the plot, or a scene might need to be cut because it isn’t worth the space it’s taking.

If you hit a dead-end in your plot, don’t despair! By assessing your situation and creating a new plan, you can dig yourself out and create an even better plot than what you started with. By considering both the big picture and the details, you can pinpoint your problem and get your novel back on track.

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