Friday, July 26, 2013

Discussing Plot: Complication or Situation?

For the next couple weeks, I'm doing one of my favorite things--studying books on the writing craft! Woo-hoo!

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing was put together by the editors of Writer's Digest. Featuring seventy-seven essays on writing, this book appeals to my need for bite-size lessons. Gail Gaymer Martin wrote chapter forty-three, "What is Christian Romance?" Needless to say, I have an author crush on Gail!

Anyway, I recently read Monica Wood's excellent chapter, "The Plot Thickens," where she discusses complications in a novel. She explains that many newer writers mistake a situation for a complication. For instance, a bomb destroying a building our heroine just exited sounds like a complication, right? If the character runs to her car, drives to her boyfriend's house, and continues living her life with little consequence, the bomb was merely part of a situation.

Ms. Wood explains, "A good complication puts emotional pressure on a character, prompting that character not only to act, but to act with purpose."

Sometimes we come up with a great problem to throw at our characters, like the bomb above, but we fail to fully capitalize on it. We settle for letting the heroine escape with a racing heart rather than giving her a reason to act.

After I write a scene, I immediately take fifteen minutes to review it and ask a few questions.

- Did the viewpoint character learn anything in this scene?
- Did the scene answer a question? If yes, is a new question presented?
- How did the viewpoint character grow? If she didn't grow, did she regress?
- How did this scene move the plot forward?

I almost always find a way to bring the scene to a new level by doing this. It doesn't always take much to take a "good" scene to a "compelling" scene.

The questions go back to the dilemma of situation or complication. Sometimes we think we've written a complication, but when we analyze the writing, we haven't pushed our characters enough. We've either made the situation too tidy or we've ignored a potential complication in order to push our own plot agenda.

How do you turn situations into complications for your characters? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Have a terrific weekend!


  1. Ooh, this is really great, Jill. It reminds me of something I learned through MBT...that every complication (or disappointment, obstacle, etc) should lead my character to a "Y in the road." It forces the character to make a decision and act. It makes all the difference in our stories, doesn't it!

    1. So true, Melissa. The more options and questions we can give our characters, the more the reader will want to keep reading!

  2. Thanks so much for this! Love the checklist that you do after every scene! So essential to making sure every word counts!

  3. I love that you are always learning! I still thank you for teaching me about GMC.


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