Piecing Together a Plot

Ever feel like your plot is sliding out of control?

No matter how intricate and twisty our plots are, plot holes will inevitably rear their ugly heads. Whether it’s a saggy middle, a loose end or a need for higher stakes, we’re bound to face trouble areas. Thought I’d share some of my favorite insights and exercises to help us through.
Identify and heighten the Goal, Conflict and Stakes
  • Go through your novel and write these three words at the top of every chapter.
  • Now, define them for every chapter.
  • It helps identify trouble areas and highlight “soggy middle syndrome.”

Use questions and exercises to fix the trouble areas you ID’d
  • How can you make your MC’s problem personal? This creates emotional power.
  • How can you make it matter more than life?
  • What’s the moment that your MC realizes there’s no turning back? Do readers get to see that scene?
  • How can your MC’s problem get worse? Once you think you’ve made it as bad as it can be…ask this question again.
  • What will be lost if your MC fails?
  • Heighten your story’s turning points through action, dialogue and emotion
  • Do you have a mix of internal and external tension? How can you add one or the other?
  • Are your characters emotional or active? How can they be both? Can their actions and emotions be at odds?

Nail the timeline and logistics
  • Know what ALL your characters are doing at any given moment, even if they’re not on scene. I did a guest post on this topic for Sommer Leigh’s Tell Great Stories a while back. MG author Janice Hardy also has some great tips on her blog.

So, there you have it. Not a perfect plot solution, but enough questions to keep us busy and scheming away on our next twist!


  1. Great tips! I love the question on 'how can your MC' problem get worse...' then ask again. Sounds kind of like real life ;)

  2. I'm always too nice to my character on my first attempts. I usually have to go back and throw something at her to make her react. Conflict, conflict, conflict...that's the fuel in the engine.

  3. "Know what ALL your characters are doing at any given moment, even if they’re not on scene." - yes! I'm so glad to see that here. Plot holes are the pits, but this outline routine I've invented has really made a difference with my last two WiPs. Great tips! :)

  4. Wonderful post, Nicole! It's so hard to get through the plot without getting lost in the middle. I used to be a pantser, but have gone over to the plotters -- I HAVE to know what's happening to all my characters, and have to keep things organized to make sure it all flows together.

  5. Great post and brilliant advice :) Love the list of questions, such good things to keep in mind when editing.

  6. These are great tips! Thanks so much for sharing them.

  7. Lovely tips! I like the idea of writing the three key words on the top of each chapter. I've gotten better at making things worse for my MC. I think it took two or three books under my belt to really get comfortable with this idea, but even now, I feel my new story outline is already so much stronger than previous stories. I guess we really do get better with practice! :)

  8. Some great advice - which I will save for my next WIP (doing the memoir right now :)

    PS... thanks for the kind comments re. the next Blogfest... I must owe you something from somewhere, do I?? :)

  9. Great tips to remember, which will be extremely helpful as I work through my edits, things to continually ask myself in tightening up my story. Thanks, Nicole!

  10. "Know what ALL your characters are doing at any given moment, even if they’re not on scene."

    I found this HARD to do, but so helpful!

  11. Great tips to sharpen scenes! I'll put my manuscripts to the test with this. Thanks.

  12. Great advice! Sometimes it's tricky to keep track of what all your characters are doing at a given time - a useful way of doing this is to write a list of the main events of the novel then make a note of where all the characters are. The list of questions is really helpful! :)

  13. Thanks! Although I know most of what you said, your post helped me realize I didn't really think my one WiP through far enough. So I'm definitely going to do some rethinking before I start it again. :-D

  14. Good tips here. As I'm getting ready for NaNoWriMo, I'd definitely want to avoid the saggy middle that you mentioned here when it comes time for me to write.