In order to write a good plot, you need to take big risks. Often times when we write, we fall into the usual patterns of building suspense. We are not being unique in our choices, because in that moment, we feel that it will be impossible for our character to get out of that situation in an interesting way. So we choose not to create impossible situations, but if we do, we find a cheap cop out that weakens the plot and the characters. As writers, we choose lesser choices. You may think it is good enough, which maybe it is, but why settle?
(Your story does not necessarily need to be driven by fantasy or supernatural themes.)
Step 1: Take the risk and choose the bolder choice, even if it seems there is no way it will work.
If you put them in a semi-dangerous position, that will do little for suspense. Why? Because the reader assumes that the protagonist will not die or lose to the enemy, since this is the norm in books. But you want the kind of suspense in your book that will make the reader question these norms. Putting your protagonist in a situation that seems impossible will make him question if you are challenging the norms, and you will really make the protagonist die or lose to the enemy. You can be the norm. But you can make your reader believe otherwise. That is a key facet to good suspense.
Step 2: Now that we have created the impossible situation, it is time to think of a creative way to save your protagonist.
The difference between writing a way out to a typical difficult circumstance in your book compared to a seemingly impossible circumstance in your book is strictly correlated to the amount of brain effort you put in. It takes careful planning to make it work, while other times the answer can be simple but unexpected. It’s all about misguidance, set-ups, and everything in between.
Part 1: Creating the Impossible Situation.
Your protagonist is trying to escape from a prison that is managed by a superior, who is also a prisoner. This superior receives special treatment. He is given air conditioning, more food choices, more water, etc. He rules the prison, creating all the rules. He is established as a threat by everyone, because he kills anyone who questions or challenges him or his rules. The superior catches the protagonist trying to work out an escape. He calls him over to his room, and forces him to admit that he has been trying to escape. The superior pulls out his knife and puts it’s on his throat.
Because this character has a reputation of killing other prisoner without hesitation, you can only expect that he will kill the protagonist… what else is there left to do?
The second part of this seemingly impossible situation is even more important than the first. You can create a suspenseful situation, but if you find a cheap way out of it—you just killed the suspense and made the villain look weak. That is a big no-no. It’s easy to come up with a situation that seems like there is no way out. Finding a unique way out of the screw-up is what will give your readers the ultimate satisfaction—instead of doing the opposite.
Part 2: The Exit-Strategy of the Impossible Situation.
(The exit-strategy doesn’t all have to depend on the protagonist. It can come from luck, other characters, etc.)
I will give two resolutions: One of them is typical, and is often found as an answer to a situation in books, while the other is unique—and furthers the plot, giving you the unexpected.
Typical resolution: The superior injures him a little, and then threatens him—he says that if it happens again, he will be dead.
Unique resolution: He says that he also wants to be a part of this escape.
Given that this is only a brief example pulled out of context, it is harder to fully see the different impacts of these two resolutions. But what this does is gives you an idea. Take time to think outside of the box. It makes for a better story.
Betty Krasnik is a student at University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published short stories in Calliope and Red Shoes Review school literary magazines. Currently, she is writing short stories, writer’s blogs, and is finalizing her first dystopian novel. She wants to help other writers on their journey by sharing tips and guidance to help with common pitfalls and ways to enhance characters, plot, and overall storytelling for aspiring authors. Follow her on Instagram @betty_krasnik for pictures of her illustrations, cute pictures of her Norwegian Forest cat, and updates on future publications.