A couple of weeks ago, I was stuck in my latest work-in-progress (WIP). One scene wasn’t progressing because I couldn’t figure out why my character was doing what he was doing. I just knew that he was doing it, even though he knew the action was a Bad Idea (TM). Why, character, why?
Some writers might be able to skip that scene and move on to the next one. I’m not that kind of writer. *smile*
I write by the seat of my pants in a linear order. The story reveals itself to me, scene-by-scene, like a movie in my head, and I just take dictation. This style of writing doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me because the linear path of the storyline keeps the cause and effect chain intact.
If I try to skip ahead, I have trouble getting into my characters’ heads. Imagine if a friend went through major trauma and we didn’t know it. We’d be blithely ignorant of what they were going through. In other words, skipping ahead means I’m back where I started with not knowing why my characters are doing what they’re doing.
Obviously this becomes a problem for me when the “stuck phase” lasts for a while. I can’t move forward and I can’t skip forward, what’s a frustrated writer to do?
My inability to use the typical “skip ahead” advice means I’ve had to find alternate methods for getting unstuck. If you struggle with “getting stuck” in a story as well, maybe these tips will help.
Tip #1: Go Back Two Steps to Move Forward One
Sometimes the problem is caused by losing touch with the story or with our characters’ inner thoughts. We all struggle with interruptions from real life: car pools, work schedules, and that annoying need to eat and sleep occasionally. During those interruptions, we can lose connection with our subconscious’s insights into the story.
If we go back a scene or two—maybe the last scene that felt right or the last scene in a problematic character’s point of view—we might find the lost thread. I’m not advocating for editing those drafted scenes, as we don’t want to get caught in an editing loop and not move forward.
However, if we read from that scene forward, we might pick up the threads our subconscious wove along the way. Recovering that mindset can reforge the connections to our story and characters, which might allow us to move forward with our drafting.
Tip #2: Tweak the Previous Actions
Stories are made up of actions and reactions. Everything is a reaction to what came before. So if we’re having trouble moving forward, maybe it’s because the actions leading up to the stuck section are off.
If we tweak the actions leading up to our stuck point, the story must react differently. Different reactions might erase our stuck point entirely.
Tip #3: Identify Where the Story Doesn’t Go
(This is my favorite of these tips, at least this week—mostly because this was what got me unstuck this time.)
Think of how the story doesn’t proceed or how the characters don’t react. Then figure out why the story doesn’t go that way.
This sneaky trick can unlock our subconscious. In my case, by thinking of all the reasons my character didn’t have for doing his action (“Well, it wouldn’t be because of abc because he thinks xyz, and it wouldn’t be because of…”), my subconscious reminded me of some of his personality traits. More importantly, my subconscious reminded me that the heroine probably goaded him into his choice. Heh. Well, that explains it.
I’ve used this technique in a similar way to lure my muse out of hiding. By purposely thinking of ways to mess up the story, we might force our muse/subconscious to reveal the truth (“No, you idiot, this is how it’s supposed to go.”). *grin*
Tip #4: Brainstorm with Others
We can use this tip along with the others. In my case, brainstorming with my alpha reader (“Did he do it because of abc?”) triggered all those reminders from my subconscious that solved the problem.
In other words, we’re not necessarily asking our brainstorming buddy to come up with solutions. Rather, we can ask them to come up with questions. Why this and not that? Why did the character think xyz? Why wouldn’t abc happen?
Those “why” questions can be fantastically helpful at seeing where the problem lies. Is it with the previous plot event? Are we missing an action the character is reacting to? Did we zig when we could have zagged?
Tip #5: If All Else Fails, Take a Guess
Even with the hint of my character’s motivation, I still didn’t know all the details. I could have fretted over that and remained stuck. Instead, I took a guess at my character’s motivations and came out with something that felt “close enough” to move forward.
It’s okay if we have speed bumps in our draft. Our draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. If we can guess close enough that we’re encountering speed bumps and not solid walls, we’ll be able to fix it later.
To put it another way, I can’t skip past a whole scene. That’s like skipping a whole song in a rock opera—it messes up the storytelling. But if the guess feels close enough to be like a badly out-of-tune song, I can deal with the imperfection.
We’ve heard the advice many times: We can’t edit a blank page. Our goal here is to get close enough that we can regain our drafting momentum. A page worth of speed bumps is better than no scene at all. *smile*
Registration is currently open for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)
Do you write linearly, or can you skip around? What do you tend to get stuck on in your writing? Have any of these techniques worked for you? Do you have a favorite method for getting unstuck? Do you have other tips to add to this list?Pin It