Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Calling Out the Man Behind the Curtain

I don't know who first planted this idea in my head—of acknowledging the thing you're most afraid of, of looking your plot problems right in the face and shining flashlights all over them, of pulling back the curtain instead of hiding behind it. But it's saved my writing more times than I can count.

Okay, so imagine this scenario: you're most of the way through your draft, and you realize one of your characters is a bit... limp. Lack-luster, you might say. Her character arc has been left by the wayside while all your others are all happily tromping along up that character-development hill. You look back at the rest of your draft and say, "There's just not room. There's just not time. It has to be this way."

Well. Fear not, my friend. You're in good hands—and good company.

Just have another character point it out.

I'm serious! It's that easy. No, really. I mean, you want to look ahead, of course—chart out when this character is going to (finally!) come into her own and shine right at a critical moment. But before then, if that dragging character arc is really getting you down, it's not so bad to have one character turn to her underdeveloped counterpart and say, "Hey, what's the deal? You've hardly done anything. In fact, you've been useless this whole time."

"How dare you! I've been so helpful!"

"No, you haven't."

"Oh, god, you're right. I haven't. I'm useless!"

Voila, conflict! You're welcome.

Shining the light doesn't have to stop there. I've seen this technique handled really well in movies and TV shows, too, specifically when it comes to plot holes. Because sometimes, for a story to work the way you want it to work, there will be holes. There just are. You can't plug every single one, and it's unrealistic and probably putting a ton of unnecessary pressure on yourself to think you can.

So just... acknowledge them. And bat it off with a little literary hand-waving. For example:

"So, you're saying all we need to do is get this rare rock, plug it into the spaceship, and it will magically start working again?"

"Yeah, basically. Just go with it. You want to get off this backwater planet too, right?"

Yeah, just catapult right over that shit. Ain't got time to slow down and explain away plot holes.

If it sounds too good to be true, maybe you've just been working too hard. Sometimes the answers are staring you right in the face.

Obviously, these kinds of solutions shouldn't take the place of careful, thoughtful revising, or avoiding problems that should be solved. But sometimes, when you have that sudden realization—like, "Oh, man. I've really screwed this up. I've been screwing it up since I started this draft," that kind of realization—you don't have to go back and fix every single thing. Sometimes it creates good conflict and humor to embrace your plot holes, your sagging characters, and other less-than-pretty realities of storytelling.

Pull back that curtain and laugh at the little man in his underwear.

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.


  1. Kiersi, I absolutely love all your posts! This cracked me up but really helped me too. Dramatic irony turned on its head. I love it!

  2. I was laughing while reading this post. I enjoyed it very much. You almost make problems with characters and plot :P