Thursday, March 2

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, March 02, 2017 6 comments
A few summers ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection.

That one small change ripples out.

It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger. Test their mettle or their relationships.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus
~Kid forgets his lunch or gym clothes

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?


  1. Great ideas, Laurel. It is true that the simplest inconveniences can spread themselves out over our lives. My sugery just 8 days ago has had ramifications for every family member - my oldest is driving my youngest everywhere, they are both cooking a number of dinners and doing more chores in addition to their usual ones. While everyone says "it really shouldn't be a big deal" - it can be, when extra homework is given out, one of the cars has an issue (the one my daughter was driving), and all of a sudden I need a ride from someone to an extra doctor's appointment. My husband, thankfully, has an understanding work environment and the ability to take a car engine apart (and put it back together). He took 1.5 days off and everything went back to an almost normal pace. In a fiction story, characters show their qualities under stress/fire and we get to see the good and bad come out pretty quickly in those situations. (My kids and husband are awesome, but there have been a few more frustrated groans over homework.)

    1. What a great analysis and real-life example. I totally agree that character qualities become most evident when we put them into stressful situations.

  2. I have rarely changed something on purpose that totally changed the book. But once or twice, I changed a minor detail, which caused me to rewrite entire chapters, and a character profile. What a mess that was; but it was sure fun learning all about my new character and setting. So awesome.

    1. This idea can be more or less helpful depending on when you use it in the process. I was thinking more of in a pantser first draft, when you find plot stalled--change one thing, and the plot can get going again.

  3. I know the biggie around here. Our (gasp) Internet connection is down.

    1. For sure, that could make a tech-focused person get up from the desk and do something totally out of routine.