Let’s be honest. Plot development is not always fun. Sometimes it’s really hard.

Sometimes, your story gets stuck in a rut, backed into a corner, or just gets flat and boring.

plot development

The Most Important Thing to Ask Yourself for Plot Development

There are tons of articles out there that want to give you long lists of your plot development problems and detailed steps to take to resolve each. But as I drafted my first novel, which is releasing next month, I found that a single question was enough to get my creativity going again. This one question got my story back on track every single time.

So what’s the question?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Why It Works

You’ve probably heard before that to tell a good story, you’ve got to torture your characters. It’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given.

Why is it so important to make your characters suffer? If your characters don’t struggle, if they don’t have to sacrifice and make hard choices and have something real at stake, they’re just coasting along through time.

If your characters are just coasting…well, where’s the story in that?

Characters need something to fight for. Your readers are counting on you to establish real stakes. Without those stakes, you won’t hold readers’ attention for long.

The question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” has been my most effective tool in establishing high, compelling stakes for my writing.

How To Use It

This question is a simple and seriously effective tool for plotting. Don’t reserve this question for your hero alone. I use it for supporting characters and for my antagonists, too. I use it as much for world-level events as I do for individual characters.

I apply this question any time I feel my plot development is lagging, or a character (even a side character) is losing its punch. It’s never failed me. Use it as frequently as necessary—lather, rinse, repeat.

One-Up Yourself

Sometimes, the answer to this question will seem immediate and obvious. But don’t stop there. Mull on the question for a while and brainstorm as many different possibilities as you can.

Sure, one idea may be really terrible…but can you think up something even worse? One-up yourself. Really wreck your character. See how truly terrible you can be. Embrace your inner sadist.

Tie It Together

Up until now, we’ve focused on just creating the worst situation you can for your story. Now, it’s time to weave it into your story.

How does your story get to this terrible low point? How do your characters respond to it? What do they do to fix it? This is the really fun stuff, where you take your craziest, most sadistic ideas and fold them into the fabric of your story.

This question never failed to supercharge my creativity and get my story’s momentum back to full speed. Let your imagination run wild, and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

What helps you when your story gets stuck in a rut? Share in the comments!


Struggling to keep your story’s stakes high? Pull it out and review it, then ask yourself—what is the worst thing that would happen? Write for fifteen minutes and share your sadistic practice in the comments! If you don’t have a work in progress, take inspiration from last week’s writing prompt to create a premise, and then use this same question to plan out your plot.

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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