Maybe your story has been going along well. But then you get stuck. For me, this usually means that I don’t know what happens next. I may know where the story is going in the long term, but I’m not sure about the next piece.
What will your character do in the next five minutes? That’s right, just five minutes. It’s easy enough to figure out that. Of course, sometimes the character doesn’t do anything interesting in the next five minutes. Keep looking ahead. What happens after that? And after that?
Here’s an example from my middle grade historical novel, The Well of Sacrifice. Theheroine, a Mayan girl named Eveningstar, has been captured by the evil priest and sentenced to death by sacrifice. What does she do? Well, she’ll try to escape, of course. How? There’s not much she can do during the day, with guards and other people all around. I’ll skip ahead.
Now it’s night time. Does she quietly go to sleep? Of course not! She’ll be thrown into the well of sacrifice in the morning, so she’s too anxious to sleep. She’ll sit up, listening to the guards outside her door. She’ll wait for her opportunity.
What opportunity? What if one of the guards leaves for a few minutes, perhaps to go to the bathroom. With only one guard outside, she has a chance. She’ll look around for a weapon....
And my character is off and running, on the next part of her adventure.
You can also try looking at the action from another point of view – that of the villain. If you have an antagonist, what is that person doing to foil your hero? Whether it’s a criminal, a bully, an evil sorcerer, or parents who “only want the best” for their child, keep them active in the story, causing trouble.
I used this technique for my middle grade mystery novel, The Eyes of Pharaoh, where the main characters were trying to find a missing friend. What would they do next? I couldn’t figure out anything exciting enough.
Then I checked in with my villain. Was he just sitting around waiting for the heroes to act? No! He had plans of his own, plans to set a trap... and then I knew what would happen next.
Taking the Right Kind of Break
Many of these tricks require thinking first, before you start writing. You might find it easier to do that away from your desk. If the computer is starting to feel like an enemy, step away from it for awhile. Try jotting your notes longhand on a piece of paper, or thinking about your story while you fold laundry or ride your exercise bike. I find that taking a walk helps me sort out my thoughts. I often take a tape recorder along and dictate into it, but even simply thinking about the problem can help.
You may need to experiment to find your own techniques for overcoming writer’s block. Some writers go to a library, café or park to write. Some find that ideas come to them in the shower. Or perhaps if you fall asleep thinking about a story problem, you’ll have the answer in the morning.
Maybe you need to talk about the problem with a friend. Even people who don’t write can have fun brainstorming story ideas. When my mystery heroes had to escape from their trap, I asked a dozen people – including an engineer and a former military commando – for ideas. They came up with an amazing variety of possibilities. I didn’t wind up using any of them, but they got my own mind thinking creatively.
So is there a cure for writer’s block? Not a cure, perhaps, but a variety of treatments. Try these suggestions, and experiment to find new tricks that work for you. You may still get stuck, but hopefully you’ll get those fingers flying soon, and fill up that blank white page with nice black words.
Title: Advanced Plotting
Publisher: Pig River Press
Date Published: December 1, 2013
Genre: writing craft
Word Count: 35,000
If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help a writer work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also be used to help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience. Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.
This really is helping me a lot. It's written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool! – Carmen O.
It’s hard for writers to judge their own work. Sometimes we are so in love with the ideas and characters that we can’t see the flaws in the manuscript. Sometimes we know what we wanted to convey, so we don’t realize we didn’t put it clearly on the page. Sometimes we’re just not experienced enough to recognize the problems, let alone know how to fix them.
The Plot Outline Exercise can be used with a critique group and would be great for a writing retreat. It can also be used when you’re on your own. The goal is to first help you step back from the manuscript and view it as a whole, so you can see the big picture. This will help you find places where something is missing, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary; sections that don’t make sense or don’t fit smoothly into the whole; and other problems. Once you understand the big picture problems, you can start seeing how to fix them. From there you can narrow your focus to the chapter, scene, and paragraph level, finding and fixing smaller flaws. Using the Plot Outline Exercise is like having an experienced teacher analyze your work and point out the trouble spots.
Take the time to do the Plot Outline Exercise properly. You may be overwhelmed when you start to realize how much work you have left to do. Put down your manuscript for a while and do something fun. Then come back ready to work. Think of all the energy you put into the first draft. You don’t want to waste all that time and effort! If you start submitting or self-publishing your story before it’s ready, or if you just give up, you are throwing away those hours of hard work. Make them count, and make your manuscript shine, by devoting the necessary time to revisions.
Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; and The Well of Sacrifice. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.
Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins. What We Found features a young woman who stumbles on a murder victim, and Rattled follows a treasure hunt in the New Mexico desert. To learn more about her latest work, visit www.krisbock.com or her Amazon page.
Chris Eboch Amazon Author Page
Chris Eboch GoodReads Author Page
Kris Bock Amazon Author Page
Kris Bock GoodReads Author Page