Inventing Plot Complications

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Every book on plotting says simply that you must have plot complications. But they don’t give much help on inventing interesting complications. Here are two things I’ve used as I’m working on this expanded outline for my new novel

Look to Setting for Plot Complications

One way of inventing plot complications is to look around the setting.
This weekend, I watched the movie, hitchHitch, for about the fourth time. In one scene, Albert, the overweight dude, is calling the love-of-his-life, Allegra. He’s nervous, so he walks around and casually grabs hold of a vase with artificial flowers. The vase tips over, spilling glass marbles all over the floor and Albert tries to keep from tripping on them. It’s both visually interesting and takes advantage of Albert’s slightly bumbling ways. On this micro-level of plot complications, it adds humor, further develops Albert’s character and moves the story along.

What is in your setting, or what could be in your setting that would add complications? These can be micro-complications within a single scene, or they could be over-arching complications that take up much of a story.

Lists, Pushing to Extreme, Dovetailing

Another way I’ve been using to develop plot complications is lists: I’ve listed the steps in the logical progression of the main plot and the major subplots. Then, I’ve tried to push each of these toward a more interesting extreme or edge that creates unusual plot complications. Finally, I try to find places where the lists can dovetail into an interlocking unit

For example, in the story I’m plotting, in one scene the main character (MC) needs to knead bread. What could I make happen that would prevent him from being able to knead bread? That’s the right question because his inability to do the kneading would complicate this plot nicely. I made a long list of things and looked at each of the steps of the plot to see if there was something to tie this into. Another plot point is that the MC’s mother wants him to do the yard work without asking.

Putting together these two plot points – kneading bread and cheerfully doing yard work – was the key. Now, my MC cheerfully does the yard work, but doesn’t realize he’s handled poison ivy vine. He comes into the house and his mom is so appreciative of his initiative that she hugs him. Of course, she’s very allergic to poison ivy – if she even walks past a patch of it, she breaks out – so she breaks out, too, and is furious. And the poison ivy breaks out on the MC’s hands, so, he can’t knead the dough.

This time, finding plot goals that dovetail resulted in an plot complication. Time will tell if this stays in the story, but at least it’s something a bit unusual.

I hope I find more ways of developing plot complications, because this story is far from plotted! What’s your favorite way of developing plot complications?

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1 Comment
  • Journey_Cat
    July 26, 2013

    Hello Darcy!

    You just made my day with your post. I’ve been searching around for the meaning of ‘plot complications’, so I ended up here. And you explained it just perfectly! Thank you so much. :-)

    With best of luck,

    Journey_Cat (from Nanowrimo)