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Avoid The Reaction Plot Hole

If a bomb goes off in your plot and no one reacts, what's the point?

A friend of mine uses the term “push back," in her critiques. What it means is something of merit happens or is said and none of the characters respond. The action or dialogue goes unchallenged and the scene contains no conflict: huge plot hole.

During a recent encounter with a stubborn two-year-old, I knew exactly what she meant. The conversation went something like this:

“Ava, Granny has to go into her room for a minute.”


“Yes, I do. You can hold my hand or I can pick you up, which would you prefer?” (I like to give toddlers options. It makes them feel like they have a modicum of control.)


“Take my hand.”


“Okay, the hard way.” I picked her up. She pushed back by whining the entire time we were in the room. Little Ava didn’t get her way and she was not happy about it. She let me know it, for five minutes straight, while banging her Barbie doll’s head on everything she came in contact with.

Don’t make things too easy for Sally, Dick, and Jane. Make sure other characters balk, impede, cop an attitude, and show their displeasure. Make them react. Get inside each character's head. What are they thinking and feeling in the scene? 

Too often secondary characters' motivations are lost when writing from one character's POV. Just because they aren't the focus, doesn't mean they don't have thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, schedules, and goals of their own.

If Dick forces Jane to go somewhere she doesn’t want to go, talk to someone she does not want to talk to, or perform an act she’d rather not, have her refuse or retaliate.

What will Jane do to make him regret forcing her hand? It may not happen right away. Dick might not feel the push for an hour, a day, or a week. Dick makes Jane do something. She forces him to pay for it later by making him do or say something or go somewhere he doesn’t want to. If Jane complies and fulfills Dick’s request, she might push back right away then emphasize her point again later.

They start off having the above sort of conversation:

“Jane, we’ve been invited to Sally and Ted’s for a party.”

“No freaking way.”

"Ted is my boss.”

“I’d rather crawl in a sewer and collect Bubonic-plagued rats.”

“Attendance isn't optional.”

“Your problem, not mine.”

"He expects you to come with me.”

“Fine, I’ll go, but I’ll need a new Coach purse and new heels and a new dress.”

This is the immediate push back. Jane hits Dick in his credit card.

The night arrives, dinner ensues, and Jane ruins the evening by discussing Bubonic-plagued rat hairs found in a caterer’s food at a previous party. That is push back. She might give Dick a break and tell the hideous hostess that it wasn’t her caterer – of course 
 but one can never be too careful.

Dick forces her to leave the party early, which makes Jane very happy. In retribution, he will offer a little push back of his own. When Jane asks him to go to her mother’s house for dinner, he can reply, “I’d rather crawl in a sewer and eat Bubonic-plagued rats.”

The game is on.

To learn more about using obstacles to create conflict in your fiction, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, available in paperback and E-book.

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