When the Plot Breadcrumbs Lead Nowhere

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Leaving breadcrumbs as you write a story is fun.

That stranger in the tavern who eyes your character just a little too long. The oddly repetitive appearance of a particular animal that just has to be symbolic. Or the mysterious item that seems to catch anyone’s interest who lays eyes on it.

Experienced readers often notice these little details and wonder if they are clues into what might come later in the plot.

I had left just such a trail of breadcrumbs in “Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1” without knowing exactly where the trail was leading. If you must know, it was a particular item in my protagonist’s possession that everyone seemed to regard with a mix of awe and fear. The mysterious item!

This item happens to have some magical-realism-type properties to it, so I wanted to build some plot suspense around it.

However, I’m currently 35k words into the story, and this breadcrumb trail has gone nowhere. Now, I need that mysterious item to tie this story into a neat little bow, and not in the way my breadcrumb trail had led.

So I’m going back and revising a couple sections to make sure it all makes sense, even though I should really be churning out the last 1k-2k words.

Picking Up the Breadcrumbs

As you’re drafting, it is  only natural to want to entice readers with little clues about what may come next. Sometimes, though, those details don’t really lead anywhere.

I think to a certain extent, it’s okay to include details that don’t have an overarching meaning within the story. Those details, like the off-putting expression on that tavern-goers face, can add richness to a story. It’s part of world-building.

There is also the famous Red Herring, the “clue” the author leaves to deliberately distract the reader from the real plot or trick them into believing the story was headed in one direction before making a U-turn.

However, you also don’t want to leave too many breadcrumbs that go nowhere. They may end up bogging down your story in description that slow your readers down and take away from the real plot.

It’s a balance. So when you realize that your enticing breadcrumb trail is leading nowhere, it is perfectly okay to decide that you no longer need those breadcrumbs.

As someone who tends to overthink the most minute of details, I can vouch for how freeing it is to abandon a breadcrumb trail that was going nowhere. I tried to use the mysterious item in certain way, and it didn’t work out. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless — I just need to find the more appropriate use for it in my story.

And I think I have now — it helps me get to the ending in a way that does not feel overly contrived or too easy. I think it’s win-win.

Steve D

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