Raymond Chandler once formulated his famous Chandler’s Law: “if you don’t know what happens next in your story, bring in a man with a gun,” or something to that effect. At first, I disregarded this banal trope. I thought I could do better, find a more original solution, but now, several years and a dozen stories later, I can attest to the validity of his advice. It worked for me twice recently, for two different stories.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be literally A MAN WITH A GUN. Any agent of chaos will do. When your plot is stuck, it means a balance of some sort has been reached. The forces of good and evil are clinched in a stalemate. Neither one moves because they don’t want to jeopardize their chances. You have to break the stalemate, upset the balance, so your story could move forward. And the simplest way to do that is to have a baddy at the door. The arrival of relief troops to the enemy. A treachery in your own camp. A mysterious letter from an ex. Unexpected complications in the hero’s health condition. A dragon. Or actually a man with a gun.
A couple months ago, I was working on a short story, trying to finish it to submit to an anthology. I was stuck, the deadline was approaching, but the story floundered. It needed a last punch, a final confrontation, but my heroine had already solved her problem. She just waited for the story to end. So I dropped in a bunch of bandits with guns, thus opening up a range of new possibilities for my heroine. She didn’t have a choice now; she had to act: escape, hide, fight, bargain with bandits. Anything was better than her sitting on her butt, waiting passively. Hey-ho, men with guns! You’re a writer’s best friend.
Then there is this regency novella I’m trying to write. It had resisted me for two darn years. One day, I thought about smugglers. They did a lot of smuggling in regency England, at least according to Georgette Heyer. What if a group of smugglers barged into a place where my hero and heroine enjoyed their secret tete-a-tete? Now, boom, they have to do something. Smugglers were deadly fellows in those days, so my characters couldn’t stay chatty and complacent anymore. It was a beautiful solution to my writing block, and the story is unrolling nicely.
What other literary devices do you employ, when your plot is in the suds?
Unrelated: I had a fantasy short story Defying Kikimoras published in the April 2017 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. They are running a poll for the annual Reader’s Choice Award, asking people to vote for their favorite story and author. The poll is open until Nov 15th. You can read my story for free here. If you like it, would you mind going to the poll and voting for me? You have to scroll down to the April issue and find my name. Here is the link.
BTW: I used the device of A MAN WITH A GUN in this story as well. Worked like a charm.