Hello again to anyone who may be reading this! I’ve recently been working through some sticky spots, I suppose you could say, in my current novel. I have a few tried-and-true methods that have helped me get through difficult scenes in the past, and I’ve come up with a few more. As I had a list compiled, I thought I’d share it, because I know that other people go through similar struggles in their writings.
So, if your story seems to be stuck, then this post is for you. Hopefully some of these ideas will help to get you unstuck! Let’s get into the list.
1. Plot Out Your Story
I know that a lot of writers plot out their story before they start writing it — I do the same. So you may be wondering what I’m talking about, at this point. I’ll explain:
There are many people who like to write without a plan, for various reasons. However, without a plan — or at the very least an overarching idea — chances are, you’re going to get stuck. So to those people, if you are stuck, I repeat: plot it out, at least a little bit.
I also know that even with a plan, you can get stuck. It’s happened to me, quite recently, in fact. And how did I get past it? I heard some awesome advice, and it is this: Know what needs to happen in each scene before you start writing it. It’s worked really well so far, even with just a vague idea of what needs to happen. I recommend it to anyone who is having trouble.
2. Change The Setting
Next on the list is changing the setting. Or even just getting a general idea of where the story takes place.
Setting is not one of my strong points as a writer, and it can be a struggle for me sometimes. But sometimes a change of scenery can be just what you need. It’s worked for me, and I bet it would work for some of you, too.
Are your characters in a hospital? What would happen if they were at the beach instead? This is a bit of an extreme example, but setting really can be a game-changer. Just try experimenting a little. See where it takes you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired.
3. Backstories, Flashbacks, And Dreams
This one has been a bit of a life-saver for me at times. When you get stuck in a story, it might be because your characters aren’t developed enough. (I am guilty of some underdeveloped characters myself.)
Backstories, flashbacks, or even just dreams can help you to get inside your characters’ heads. How do their past experiences influence them now? What would they do in this situation?
Plus, writing these things can be fun, and sometimes it’s good to take a little break from the more serious stuff. (See #15.)
4. Skip To A New Scene
Some people I know are very against writing scenes out of order, and I’ve heard others swear by it. Either way, when you start a story, there’s usually a scene burning in your mind that you are really excited to write. (At least in my experience.)
If you haven’t yet reached that scene, and you’re not making much progress with your current one, I suggest skipping ahead to that scene, whether it be the end or someplace in the middle of the story.
It might make it a little more difficult to edit later, but it was already going to be difficult, right? In my opinion, if you can’t get past the scene you’re on, skipping ahead is worth it in the long run. What matters is you getting writing done, whether or not it’s in the order it’ll be in at the end.
5. Introduce A New Character
This one is exactly what it sounds like — bring in a new character. This character could be a potential love interest, a friend- or ally-to-be, the protagonist’s nemesis, or anything in between. It could even be the protagonist’s parents.
This character doesn’t even necessarily have to be new — they may have been introduced briefly earlier in the story, and they are making a reappearance. All that this character needs to do is alter the course of the story a little bit (or a lot — that’s up to you).
6. Reveal A Secret
Again, just like it sounds. Maybe a character has a game-changing secret . . . and it’s revealed. If you don’t have a character with a secret like this, give somebody one, and reveal it. This could be a very inopportune time for the secret to come out, which would just make things more interesting.
This might go hand in hand with the next idea on this list — an unexpected betrayal. A character might reveal something they’ve seen or heard about another character — some kind of evidence that the other character is going to betray the protagonist.
The betrayer might choose to play his/her hand right then . . . this might also lead to consequences for the one who gave out their secret.
7. Unexpected Betrayal
Like I said in the last step, this could go hand in hand with the secret. There are all sorts of things that could go wrong when one character betrays another.
This is something I actually really love in books, though I’m not sure why. It’s something I include in almost all my stories, and I particularly like it when a character who seems harmless or innocent is the one who has been playing them all along. Think of all the damage someone who was trusted could do, if they knew a lot of the protagonist’s ways and secrets . . .
It can cause all kinds of problems when one character betrays the others, and there are a lot of possible motivations. Maybe they were on the other side all along. Maybe it’s revenge from some old but unforgotten slight. Perhaps they were convinced that the opposing side is the right one. The possibilities are endless, and it can be a big help.
8. Add A Mystery
Adding a mystery can sound kind of complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain:
Introduce something that is unexplained — a letter or gift from an unknown source, for example. Whether it’s a help or a hindrance, you get to choose. This might cause some divisions between characters, for maybe some believe that they should take the advice/use the gift, etc., but others don’t think so.
It could be a deeper mystery, as well. Maybe something that lasts throughout the book. Maybe someone goes missing (see #10) and they can’t find them again. Something like that. Whatever you decide on, it can help get the story moving again.
9. Bad Information
This could make a good plot twist — the characters find out that the information was bad and they’ve been going in the wrong direction all along. Whether it be a misheard or unfinished prophecy, or someone deliberately leading them to believe something that wasn’t true, it can change the direction of the story.
Even if you don’t use this in your story, I think it could be a good brainstorming exercise that could get your mind working and your creative juices flowing. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling, even if you don’t keep things this way in the end.
10. Take Away Something Important
Take away something — or someone — important . . . this could be quite interesting. (Not to mention fun, at least for the writer.) There are so many different ways you could do this.
For example, you could take something/someone away by having it/them be stolen or kidnapped. The thing (whether it be a person or a treasured/important object) could get lost somehow, or even killed. Their supplies could get eaten by an animal or set on fire. So many possibilities.
Basically, you are forcing your characters to function without an important person or object. This can really make them act, and maybe even do things that are out of character, because they’re stressed or confused or worried or grieving. And action moves the story along, so hopefully doing something like this could help you get unstuck.
11. Rewrite With Different Choices
This is something I’ve done several times myself in past stories, and also in the one I’m currently writing. Put simply, if you don’t like the way the story is going, don’t delete. Go back to an important decision-making point and let the characters make a different decision. See where things go from there.
I say don’t delete because you might end up liking the first way better when you go back and read through it again. But even if this happens, maybe while you’re writing the other part you’ll come up with something that will get your story going again where you used to be stuck.
12. Change The Point Of View
I believe I’ve recommended this in a previous post (it might have been one of the dares — I can’t remember), but it’s worth mentioning again. If you’re stuck, write from another person’s point of view. It could be the villain. It could be a minor character. You might even go so far as to write from the perspective of a character who isn’t currently with the other main characters (e.g., a sibling).
It’s really up to you, but I’ve found that this exercise not only helps me to know my characters better, but it gives more perspectives for the problem and gives me insight into how the others might react to this. It’s important to remember that the minor characters and antagonists are still characters, too, and they have their own problems and motivations. Let them have a chance to speak for a little while if you’re stuck.
13. What Could Go Wrong? — Write That
George M. Cohan once said, “In Act One, get your characters up in a tree; in Act Two, throw rocks at them; and in Act Three, get them down again.” I think that sums things up pretty nicely.
Once you’re past those first chapters (or even pages, really), you should be working on Act Two. You need to throw stones at your characters. Try as hard as you can to make them fall out of that tree. Think of things that could go wrong, and make those happen.
14. Read A Book
Alright, this isn’t strictly something that will make your story move forward, but reading can really help to inspire you. Read something, and use it for inspiration. I’m not saying that you should necessarily take the conflicts from the books you’re reading or anything, but they can make great inspiration.
Figure out things that you like in other books — things that you admire about others’ writing — and try to implement that in your own story. Again, don’t copy, but let their styles influence yours, and let your thoughts wander.
After all, reading is what makes a writer, really. Books are some of your greatest resources — you might as well use them.
15. Work On Something Else
I saved this one for last, because it’s usually a last resort for me. All the same, it is something I do, and sometimes it is necessary. Some stories just don’t work out, or sometimes you just need a break from your work in progress.
If you’re tired of your story, there is nothing wrong with taking a short break. Don’t work on it for a day or two. Don’t work on it for a week. Get some time away from it, and get some perspective. Write other things, if you want.
Sometimes distance is needed. It’s helped me to make sense of things in my stories before, and if you need it, I think that giving your story some space for a little while can help you, too. Maybe in that time, you’ll come up with a solution to whatever problem had you stuck. Who knows? Anything’s possible.
I realize that this post was longer than usual, and I apologize for that. A big thank you to those of you who stuck with it and read it all the way through (or at least skimmed it). I really hope that this helps inspire someone, and that this is useful in some way to anyone who might read it.
If you have any other ideas or advice, or if you’ve had success with using one of these ideas in the past, please share! I’d love to hear what you think.
Thanks again for reading, and have a nice day!