What’s Wrong with My Story? – The Ultimate “Hack” for Fixing Broken Plots

So, there you are. You’re writing like the wind. Things are going well. Words are flowing. The story is epic. The dialogue is snappy. And then SCREECH! You suddenly slam on the brakes because, wait a second, something is wrong. Everything you thought was going to work suddenly just…doesn’t. 



Uh-oh. This is a huge problem. A problem I’ve dealt with several times in my writing career. I call it a Plot Clog. Something is wrong with your story, but you have no idea how to fix it. And until you do fix it, you can’t really move on. Because too many other things in the story depend on this one not-working thing.

But you want to stay focused as a writer, so what do you do?

Fortunately, I recently discovered a handy “hack” for busting out of the Plot Clog, figuring out what’s wrong with your story, and getting things flowing again. Since discovering this little trick, I’ve tried it out a few times and I’m happy to report that it really does work! And it’s pretty simple too. So I thought I’d share it with all of you.

Whenever you reach a plot problem, road block, or challenge in your novel (or really any problem you’re having in any aspect of your life, but I won’t get into that), here’s all you have to do to bust free from that pesky problem:

Write an email to an imaginary editor explaining the problem.

Whether you have an actual editor or not is irrelevant. The email can also be to an imaginary critique partner, an imaginary best friend, or an imaginary literary agent, it doesn’t matter. As long as they’re imaginary because here’s the secret…

The email will never actually get sent!

So it doesn’t really matter who you write it to! Write it to an imaginary plot solving mad genius (hey…they exist!) The point is, just the process of explaining your plot problem to someone new actually helps you work out the problem itself. Particularly if the recipient is someone who’s not 100% familiar with the story you’re working on.

Because when you have to lay out how the plot problem fits in with the larger plot of your book, it forces you to not only see the bigger picture of your story as a whole and how the plot problem connects to it, but also forces you to boil down the essence of your story into a single email (lest you rewrite the entire book in the body email.)

I discovered this trick a few months back when I was stuck on a plot problem and I opened up an email to my editor to tell her ALL about it. By the time I was 3/4 through the email, what do you know? I’d solved that darn thing myself. I thought it was just a fluke until it happened again when I was struggling with a different plot problem for a different novel and I started typing out the WHOLE thing to a fellow author friend over instant message, convinced SHE would be the one to help me work out the issue. But before I could even send the message, HUZZAH! the answer had come to me. That’s when I knew I was onto a pretty cool hack.

So give it a try. Next time you run into a stumbling block, open that email, picture someone who has ALL the answers on the other end, and start typing like you really are going to send it. Tell that plotting genius ALL about this problematic book or story of yours, and see if it opens up some channels in your mind.

Good luck!


Want to learn more? Check out my online course on Conquering Writers Block


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  Comments: 4

  1. I’ve read a number of self-empowerment books, and these books gave anecdotes explaining how the subconscious mind works. Basically, someone–say a writer, inventor, mathematician solving a problem–was “stuck” on something. They’d then turn the issue over to their subconscious mind, which would eventually show them a solution.

    In fact–and don’t quote me on this–that may have been the process by which Einstein came up with his famous formula.

    That’s how many new ideas, inventions, solutions, etc, come to the fore: they’re pondered on, and then by whatever means one wants to attribute the solution to, a solution eventually comes to mind.

    On the other hand, an even deeper question is: what if you can’t even define the problem? It’s one thing to write an email explaining it to an imaginary editor (or allowing your subconscious mind to work on it), but what if you “feel” that something is missing, but can’t think of, or articulate what it is? (I have a feeling this might happen to a lot of so-called “pantsers.”)

    My answer to that is, if one plans their story properly beforehand, this whole “stuck” issue probably won’t occur–at least, not in any big way. Instead, one may struggle with how best to articulate something, but not on what to articulate, because that would have been planned beforehand.

  2. I did exactly this today, unsure of how to keep my mind focused (health issue) I asked in an email Sophie Hannah if she had any formula I could use to assist. A long difficult explanation of my problem and my thought on how to help myself resulted in me seeing the answer. It was a bit like reading a poem aloud to hear what was wrong. A good solid trick that works.

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