There’s nothing more frustrating then writing and writing and writing… And then realizing you have no idea what comes next.
It’s not writer’s block. The motivation is there, but the ideas either aren’t flowing or just aren’t very good. Instead of moving forward, you’re stuck in quicksand.
Over the past few months, I have been drafting my third novel, and this has happened to many too many times to count. Especially once I got to the sagging middle. I knew how it started, I knew how I wanted it to end. But no clue how to get from Point A to Point B.
So the following thirteen methods I have used recently and can full endorse. Let’s dig in…
- Check out a few different plot structures/methods.
There are several methods out there, and it can get a little overwhelming. But studying common story structures can be a great tool for seeing what might come next, even if you don’t follow the equation exactly.This post from Well-Storied outlines three popular structures that you may be able to learn from! You can also check out The Story Solution by Eric Edson which breaks down 23 crucial scenes for any novel or screenplay. If you’re missing one, you know what to add!
- Create a mind map.
You probably used mind maps in middle school, but they are still just as relevant today, especially for those who are intimidated by or against traditional outlining. This post from Think Written explains how to use a mind map to plot a novel better than I ever could, so check it out and give it a try.
- Ask yourself these questions.
- “What if?” Then jot down every crazy, predictable or downright stupid idea. Sketch a few out and see where it takes you. You may find a diamond in the rough.
- “What could go wrong?” Then write exactly what could go wrong. Hell of a way to add conflict AND torture your characters.
- Brainstorm with others.
This is actually my favorite part of the drafting process: going to your critique partner and saying “HELP! I have no idea what I am doing.” Because a fresh set of eyes is going to notice all sorts of things that can be elaborated upon to move the plot forward. Their ideas may or may not be what’s right for your story, but I guarantee you it will spark ideas of your own. Just remember to return the favor when they struggle.
- Raise the stakes.
It’s natural for stakes to heighten as a novel goes on, but sometimes it needs to be pushed. Add a secondary antagonist, make it more personal to your MC, throw in a few ugly consequences. And there’s the classic “ticking time bomb” or deadline to boost the stakes.
- Skip to the end.
I am a big advocate for writing the final scene in your novel first, that way you know where you are headed. But lots of writers feel the opposite. You may fall into that camp, but if you’re stuck, why not try it? If you know the ending, you can backtrack and figure out what needs to happen between now and then to make it happen.
- Introduce a new setting.
One of the most popular pieces of advice for conquering writer’s block is to switch up your writing location. Why can’t the same go for your characters? Plop them into a new setting and see what kind of conflict it can create.
- Switch to a subplot.
The same goes for the various plots within a novel. Typically you will have one or two major plots and several other smaller subplots. If you are stuck on one, pay a little attention to one of the others. It will buy your brain some time and potentially let new ideas form.
- Torture your characters.
I know we love them. But a happy character is a boring one. Start by getting to know them well enough that you also know all of their fears, insecurities, and doubts. Then take advantage of them. Does your character doubt their own intelligence? Have them make a stupid mistake at work. Are they insecure when it comes to sex and passion? Make their significant other get frustrated and call them out on it. Afraid of spiders? Throw a spider at at them! It can be anything. But bumps in the road make for a great story, so make ’em miserable.
- Look to your supporting cast.
They are literally there to help and hinder your main character and story. Let them do their job! Giving a supporting character their time in the spotlight – especially if we haven’t seen or heard of them in a while – is a great way to drive the story forward.
- Expose a betrayal, lie or secret.
Man, I am really pushing for you to be mean to your characters. It doesn’t have to even be anything big or ground-breaking, but introducing new information to the story can be as effective as lighting a fire under your MC.
- Copy the masters.
No I don’t mean plagiarize, but read their work and learn from them. You’re stuck on Chapter 22? Go pick up your favorite novel (in the same genre as your WIP), flip to Chapter 22 and see what’s going on around that point. It may spark an idea or at least tell you what kind of scene you’re needing: an action burst after a long lull, an introduction to a new character, a quiet scene filled with mostly internal etc.
- Keep writing and figure it out later.
This is the current method I am utilizing. I have a general outline of the main plot points, but there are several gaps along the way. And I KNOW it already needs some major work and big changes to what I’ve already written. But I am just powering through. Once the first draft is done, I can take a clear look at what I have and what needs to be changed/enhanced/rearranged, etc.
The big trick is to not let yourself get bogged down with trying to be perfect OR overwhelmed with how much you don’t know. Writing a novel is a big undertaking, even bigger if you’re plotting a series. It’s okay not to know everything at once. Just utilize the tools above to get you through the first draft and then make your story shine during revisions.
After all, neither Rome nor Harry Potter was built in a day.