How I Solve Plot Problems (2/2)

This post is part 2 of how I solve plot problems in my fiction writing. (See part 1 for the background and an understanding of the problem to be solved). Note that this post contains some spoilers for the novelette I am currently working on, The Rebel Queen.

I’m not sure why, but the process tends to work better for me if I write it out on paper, at least initially. I think it’s because of the speed with which I can strike out, draw arrows etc. Or perhaps it is because I have less distractions trying to format perfectly 🙂

Identifying the problem

I start by writing down the problem to solved at the top left of the page. Normally I put it inside of a starburst or a bordered-box to make it stand out. It’s the problem to be solved and it’s what I want to focus on.

I don’t usually get it right the first time. For example when I started working on this problem I wrote down ‘Make The Touched an integral part of Deckarian society’. But as I worked through the problem I realised that making them integral to society wouldn’t work because of the power imbalance it would cause. Instead the problem description became: ‘How can the cloaking devices be maintained by the Touched?’

Identify the Constraints

On the left hand side of the page below the starburst I write down the constraints. These are the things that need to happen. I try to think about them and work down the issues to the lowest level, without any previous thinking slipping in to muddy the waters.

In this case I need to:

  • Limit the exposure of the Talmeni secret to the outside, including the colony and other species.
  • The Talmeni/Touched must still be involved with the colony, at least annually and have influence over the colony.

Brainstorm Solutions

On the right hand side of the page I start to brainstorm solutions. Indented under each solution I try and identify its strengths and weaknesses, and assign a positive or a negative number (as to how badly or positively they affect things).

In this example I had written:

  • The ships could be serviced at the Talmeni homeworld
    • -3 chance of keeping secret from outsiders/aliens
    • -3 chance of the Deckarians learning the Talmeni secret
  • The ships could be serviced at a satellite/hidden location
    • -3 chance of keeping secret from outsiders/aliens
    • -2 chance of the Deckarians learning the Talmeni secret
    • -1 The Talmeni are supposed to be non-expansionist
  • The Touched could live in the colony
    • -5 power imbalance caused by their presence
    • -5 unlikely to be kept separate and for secret to remain intact
    • -2 The possibility of The Touched being captured is greater if the Deckarian world were invaded. Chance of a suicide-pact working for a large group.
    • -2 Talmeni control would be reduced.
  • The Touched could visit the colony periodically
    • +2 limits exposure of The Touched to aliens
    • +5 no power imbalance created
    • +2 allow strengthening of associated plot.
  • Ships could be delivered “whole” to the Deckarians; no maintenance provided.
    • -4 Realism. The Talmeni are not going to want pay for entire ships, or be happy with half-working ships travelling around. Creates too much of a dependence.

From these options, it’s fairly clear which solution would be the best: the Touched could periodically visit the colony. This solution solves the plot problems, and allows for strengthening of other plot issues.





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