You’re cruising along nicely, enjoying the literary scenery; characters jell, plots flow smoothly, descriptions create the mood of the proper time and place. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, you swerve. Ideas fall part and that engrossing manuscript that flowed along so neatly is now one hot mess. Don’t throw out your fictional baby with the literary bathwater. You’ve only reached a snag on the road to publication. Sometimes coming to a dead stop is necessary to get thoughts in order. In general, weakness occur in the two places; character or plot issues. One method to get back on track is called the W5. It asks basic questions about character and plot and can help guide your thoughts.
If you want to round out your hero or heroine (H/H) consider how they interact with others. Who is directly affected by their actions? Only the H/H? What about friends? Family Members? Are they really important to the story or just window dressing? If they don’t advance the plot, what good are they? Too many clutter a plot and slow down the action. Secondary characters should have a specific purpose (so should the H/H.) If Joe the Coffee Shop guy’s only function is to give the heroine her cup of coffee in the morning than delete Joe the Coffee Shop guy and have her brew her own.
Are you clear on the strengths and weakness of the H/H? Every human has both, and both should appear somewhere in the story or else you have a caricature and not a person. How do these strength or weaknesses help the H/H agenda and move the plot along. How do they hinder?
Who makes the decisions in the story? If one character is always leading, then the others are probably too weak and ineffective.
Where is the most tension between the main characters? Is it a personality conflict or conflict of ideals? How can they be resolved? Should one convince the other or is a combination of both the best pathway to success. Can the H/H get help from others? Do these characters have an alternate function or are they only there to feed information to the H/H? If so, they may not be important and the information they distribute can be found in another way.
What is both the best and worst case scenario for this story? Think of at least three steps necessary for your H/H to achieve. What is the least and most important one of them? In most stories, the objective is obvious, but if your plot feels a little lackluster consider one alternative or a hidden agenda. This is the way people act in real life. They aren’t ruled by single motives alone.
Is the action well-paced? Will a reader feel rising tension beginning with the first chapter and have a satisfying letdown at the end? Novels don’t have one climatic point, but a series of smaller ones, some more important than others. They lead up to the denouement or final resolution. Does the H/H take action at the right time? A writer can’t keep a reader on an emotional high throughout an entire novel. There has to be some downtime, too, to flesh out the story. Lastly, when will the H/H know they succeeded? Will it be at the denouement or shortly thereafter with a final resolution?
Have you considered the why of this story? Why must it be told? (“To score a publishing contract” is not the right answer.) The story should be told because it’s enjoyable or enlightening. Have you conveyed to the reader sympathy for the characters so that they care about the resolution? What about the characters? Are the reasons for their actions clear? Are obstacles placed in the path of the story’s resolution or are you merely throwing barriers in the H/H’s way to make the story longer. Each barrier should have a logical reason behind it and a different resolution.
Now you’re back on track. Put on that writing cap and get to work. The story awaits.