by Ellen Buikema
Have you ever had a story playing in your mind and wanted to retell it for the amusement of your friends? If you begin without knowing what statements to use and the specific order you’ll find yourself with a choppy, not-so-interesting mess. Taking time to organize our thoughts makes the difference between a great tale and a flop.
The act of writing makes the brain take notice.
Keep your favorite writing implement or other recording device nearby to capture those nuggets.
A teacher friend uses the Smart Recorder app on her smartphone to audibly record her thoughts. She transcribes her ideas later in the day and uses them in her lesson plans. The same can be done for characters, scene notes, or anything else related to your stories.
Here are a few other apps to check out to help organize your thoughts.
When too many ideas compete for dominance in your mind it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This may seem counterintuitive, but clearing your mind is a valuable method for organizing thought.
Methods to clear the mind
- Meditate. Meditation uses minimal time and frees your mind to focus on what’s really important. Start by finding a quiet location where you can relax for five minutes. With practice you can work up to twenty. Minute length isn’t as important as taking some time out of the day to relax.
- Sit with your eyes closed and take calming breaths. Use a word or mantra to repeat in your mind to brush away the thoughts. The mantra can be any word that has no real significance to you. Some people use the word one. If you find that you’ve drifted from your mantra, gently go back to it. You’ll notice days when meditation doesn’t seem as calming. Those are the days you need it the most.
- If you are not getting enough sleep, meditation will help fill some of that deficit.
- 4 Square Breathing. This simple breathing technique can be done anywhere, anytime, and is a great stress reliever. Here is the technique:
- Inhale four counts (four seconds)
- Hold four counts
- Exhale four counts
- Hold four counts
- Repeat 5 to 6 times
- If desired you can increase the counts, further slowing your breathing.
- This technique increases focus and concentration while organizing the pattern of breathing. It is a gentle workout for the nervous system, making us more responsive and less reactive.
- Exercise. Exercising reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases endorphins which elevate mood and make focus easier to accomplish. That focus is necessary for organized thought.
- Declutter. A cluttered workspace can induce stress. Take some time to clear your desk or work table and make sure to treat yourself afterward—chocolate, wine, a movie, pizza and beer. Whatever works!
Use methods that best suit YOU
How you decide to organize is tied in part to your favored methods to learn. No one way is best. Intelligence is displayed in different forms. Most people show their intelligence in multiple areas.
Here are some organizational suggestions based on Howard Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
- Visual-Spatial – Use mind maps, charts, colors, and pictures for organizing notes.
- Linguistic-Verbal – Keep a journal. This is particularly helpful if you write before sleeping. Your brain will continue to work out issues during sleep.
- Logical-Mathematical – Use outlines, numeric charts and graphs for notes.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic – Act out or imagine concepts. Anything physical cements ideas.
- Musical – Listen to music while you write. Mood music for scenes will make a positive difference.
- Interpersonal – Brainstorm ideas with other people. Sharing information will clarify thoughts.
- Intrapersonal – Work in a quiet venue. Too many people drain your energy. As with Linguistic-Verbal intelligence, journaling helps.
- Naturalistic – If possible work in an area with a view or an outdoorsy poster. Taking time to enjoy plants or playing with a pet will relax your mind and organizing will follow.
- Existential – Meditation will help with the deep dives needed to answer intense questions, freeing you to work on mundane thoughts.
Getting your thoughts down
- On paper, whiteboard, or electronic device, make a list of everything accumulating in your head. Use the technique from the list above that works best for you.
- Step back and treat yourself to something fun that has nothing to do with your project. A short time away as a gift to yourself for a job well started will allow you to relax.
- When calm, ideas flow with less resistance. Pushing too hard enhances frustration, shutting off the creative juices.
How do you organize your thoughts? What do you use to clear your mind of cluttered thoughts? Share your favorite techniques with us down in the comments section!
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.
by John Peragine
For NaNoWriMo, I decided it was time to write book two of my trilogy, The Secrets of the Twilight Djinn. I learned volumes by just finishing the first book of the series. Book one was a bit of a fluke (I wrote about it here and here) and I had to make a decision on how to approach book two.
I had no real plans for publishing the first book, as I had written a chapter a day for my son's bedtime story. He has a chronic serious illness and the original story was created to soothe all of the emotions connected long hospital stays. It was not until a couple years later that my son insisted that I publish his book, now titled Max and the Spice Thieves.
Book one was definitely a pantser book. It took several rewrites and edits before I could honestly say it is done. As I worked on it, I realized that the book was going to be a trilogy. (Since a fourth book has formulated in my head, it might end up being a bigger series than originally expected.)
However, for book two, I'm switching sides and plotting it out. Step one: Gaining direction by reviewing my first book to see where I had been. The Hero's Journey is embedded in my brain since I used it with many of my ghostwriting projects so it was no surprise to find it was the underpinning of Max and the Spice Thieves.
Excellent! A structure I could re-use. Tolkien and Rowling did, so why can't I? Then doubt crept in and I wondered: Are there other tried and true plot structures I could be using?
Let's explore those...
#1 - Hero's Journey
This structure is used a lot in epic tales and epic movies like Star Wars, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and so much more. Joseph Campbell is probably the most well-known person to discuss the Hero's Journey and its relation to myths. It centers around a hero who is torn from their ordinary life and is pushed into a world they never imagined to complete a hero's quest.
My favorite book describing this structure is The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Here are the 12 steps:
- The Ordinary World
- The Call of Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
- Test, Allies, Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- The Ordeal
- Reward (Seizing the Sword)
- The Road Back
- Return with the Elixir
The link in the first paragraph gives a really good layout of how the Hero's Journey works, using diagrams and examples from two movies (Star Wars and The Matrix).
#2 - 12 Chapter Mystery Formula
For Agatha Christie fans, this is a formula that creates the pace, subplots, and red-herrings and reveals a great mystery novel. Click here for an excellent in-depth description of this plot formula. This link also includes "Raymond Chandler's 10 commandments for writing a detective novel" and "Frank Gruber's Fool-proof 11-Point Formula for Mystery Short Stories."
Here are the components of Agatha Christie's method:
Mysteries often have at least one or more subplots. Work on these first before breaking them into scenes.
- Main Plot
- Disclose the mystery
- Set the sleuth on the path
- Erroneous conclusion
- Facts about suspects
- Broaden investigation
- Sleuth's background
- Change of focus
- Reveal hidden motives
- Reveal results
- Review the case
- Weigh evidence
You can organize your book further into 4 acts.
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
#3 - Dan Wells 7-point Plot Structure
Dan Wells is a well-known, best-selling horror book series writer. His very nice set of videos describing his structure, based on one of his conference presentations, can be found here.
- Plot Turn 1
- Pinch 1 (This is when something goes wrong)
- Pinch 2
- Plot Turn 2
#4 - 8 Sequences Method
Ever imagine your book as a screenplay? The 8 sequences Method is often used to plot out screenplays and can also be used for writing novels. Click here for a solid description of this method, which involves the following:
Just like the plot outline for mysteries, you will want to work out you plot and subplots first.
- Main Plot
- Status quo & Inciting incident
- Predicament & Lock-In
- First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes
- First Culmination/ Midpoint
- Subplot & Rising Action
- Main Culmination / End of Act II
- New Tension & Twist
You can organize your sequences into acts. Acts are like chapters in that they contain a sequence of events, that need to be resolved in the next act.
- Sequence 1
- Sequence 2
- Sequence 3
- Sequence 4
- Sequence 5
- Sequence 6
- Sequence 7
- Sequence 8
#5 - Action/Adventure Genre Plot
This plot structure uses elements of the Hero's Journey and screenplay writing. Click here to explore this method.
- Hero's circumstance
- Receives a mission
- Begins toward goal
- Travels to an exotic location
- Encounter damsel
- Encounters henchman
- Major complications
- Infiltrate fortress
- Narrow escape
- Attain goal
- Battle henchman
- Battle villian
- Plot twist
#6 - Billy Mernit Romance Seven Beats Formula
This structure, detailed by Michael Hockney, is for the When Harry Met Sally fans, as it works well with romantic comedies. Mernit organizes his beats (sequences) as follows:
- Setup / hook
- Meet/inciting incident
- Turning point
- Midpoint / Raising the stakes
- Swivel: second turning point
- Dark moment/crisis
- Joyful defeat/resolution
#7 - Jami Gold Romance
For those that like a more traditional romance formula- Jami Gold offers a nine beat structure.
These beats represent inciting incidents and pinch points for the characters.
- External & Internal
- External & Internal
- External & Internal
- External & Internal
These acts are similar to other plot structures as a way organize sequences. The acts also represent main plot points in the story.
- Opening image/hook
- Inciting incident
- End of the beginning
- Pinch point #1
- Pinch point #2
- Final image/ resolution
I've recently started using Plottr to build my book. It is simple and relatively inexpensive. My two favorite features are that you can export your plot into Scrivener and that some of the plots I have described in this article are available as templates. Several WITS bloggers also use OneStop for Writers for help with plotting and characters.
There are many more plot structures, and perhaps I will do a follow-up blog with some more ideas. I like to take these structures and use them as a foundation, and then make changes that suit my style and my story. There is no right or wrong plot structure or strategy for writing your book! Whatever works for YOU is the best method.
Do you use a specific plot structure in your books? Do you think they help or hinder the creative process? Are you a plotter, pantser, or a combination of the two? We want to hear about it down in the comments!
John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released on April 20, 2021. JohnPeragineBooks.com. Click here for a free first chapter. (The new cover is below!)
by Melinda VanLone
We've talked a lot here on WITS about your book cover, and how important it is to your overall marketing strategy. Generally speaking, the cover we're talking about is your e-book cover. For most indies, it's the first and sometimes the only cover ever created. But once you write a story there are other formats that can and should be produced from that content, and all of them need cover artwork. All of them should use that original e-book cover as the starting point and branch out from there.
The original, the main star of your product platform, and the go-to jumping off point for all other marketing efforts associated with that book. Whether you design your own or hire a professional, you should end up with a (usually) 6x9 inch (1800 x 2700 pixels) JPG file.
Considerations I keep in mind:
- I build my original file at 300 dpi, because this hi resolution file has the most flexibility for repurposing to other formats.
- I build the file in Photoshop, so that I can maintain layers, because again it will give you the most flexibility going forward.
From there, branch out into the other formats:
Soft Print Cover
This artwork is used for the print on demand version of the book, whether you're going with KDP or Ingram Spark, or your publisher is having the book printed at their own press. The print wrap uses the eBook cover as the basis for the front, and expands on the theme to wrap around the book spine and back. The back graphic should be more of a background than a stand out piece of art, so that type can be easily read against it. The back usually includes a blurb, and a barcode for sales purposes, and sometimes may also include information like author bios or websites or sales price. The spine usually includes the title and author name (if there's room).
Both KDP and Ingram Spark provide templates you can use to ensure that your print wrap is the correct size, because that size will depend on what trim size you select and how many pages the interior of the book contains. It's vital that your final file matches what the system believes the size should be, or it will be rejected.
Audiobook covers are for the most part only a digital file, and almost always square rather than vertical, which means the original eBook cover must be adjusted to fit.
- Rather than simply shrinking the eBook file, this cover should be designed specifically for the square format.
- I use all the elements from the eBook cover, but work with them to make sure it doesn't look stretched or squished in the new dimensions.
- There's no template to download for this format, simply create a new file that is 2400 x 2400 pixels or larger, at 300 dpi, and then bring your eBook artwork into that new file.
Hardcover books are not something that most Indie authors tackle, simply because they cost a lot more to produce which means you have to charge more, and are less likely to get good sales. That said, at some point, it's nice to have the option (they make great gifts for your parents, for example), and Ingram Spark does allow for this type of format. Through them you can create a hardbound book either with a book jacket or without. The book jacket wraps around the hardbound book, with inner flaps that can support even more information and graphics. If you choose to go without, the cover image can be printed directly onto the hardcover or the cover can be wrapped in fabric...the possibilities are as unlimited as your pocketbook.
Ingram Spark provides templates for these files, or if you're working with a local vendor they will probably be happy to help make sure the file you deliver to them will work for your book specs. There is currently no option to produce a hardbound book through KDP.
Genre expectations differ country by country, so it can sometimes be a good idea to craft a cover suited to the country the book will be sold in. You'll often see that the same book in the UK has a completely different look from the one in the US. If you choose to have your book translated into another language, its cover will be at least a little different by default because the title will have to be changed, at the minimum. If you are changing the title, you might as well change the graphics to match the expectations of that country while you're at it. That way you'll maximize your chances of making a sale.
Part of building a platform often involves promotional materials such as bookmarks, postcards, key chains, pens, posters, banners (for conferences)...the list is endless. All of those materials might feature your cover art in some way, whether it's just borrowing the background or whether the entire book cover is pictured. All of those materials will use that original eBook file as the foundation graphic.
Every Version Created Costs Time and Money
As you can see, that one piece of artwork, the eBook cover, does a lot more heavy lifting than simply being an icon for one type of book, which is why getting a professional cover is so important. If you're working with a designer, expect them to charge an additional fee for every format you request. Each one takes time and effort to make sure you get the exact right file to ensure your uploading process is successful, and that the product you produce looks as beautiful as it should. Often a designer will negotiate a package price up front for multiple formats created from the original digital file, so be sure to ask about all the formats you anticipate needing.
Do take advantage of all the many ways you can utilize your cover art and content, because the more formats you can offer potential customers, the more sales potential you create for yourself.
What questions do you have for Melinda? Do you do different covers for each of your book formats? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments!
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Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.
When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.
by Kris Maze
Instagram (IG) turned 10 years old in 2020 and it shows no signs of slowing down. The more photogenic daughter of the social media mogul, Facebook, IG has sparked international interest and energized sales for many businesses worldwide. The market is attractive to writers who want to sell more books, but the deterrent of manual publishing has kept writers from embracing this social media fully. Until now.
Auto publishing to Instagram is a desirable way to maximize an author’s time and effectiveness. IG has included updates and trusted partners to their app, making scheduling posts easier than ever. Writers can now plan book campaigns and author events months in advance. They can take the time needed to produce quality posts and engaging content that will grow their audience and increase book sales.
But it isn’t as easy as downloading an app update.
In researching steps to embark on my own IG journey (spoiler alert! My account is woeful and neglected.) I found the tricks and hacks available that enable the writer to save time and stress less. Technology changes moment by moment, but I’ll share the basics with you on making your IG adventure as photo-ready as possible.
3 Steps To My IG Plan
How does a writer access this world of easy social media publishing? Let’s look at 3 steps to work through and find the path that matches your writing needs:
- Consider the type of IG account you want to have
- Decide on a scheduling app
- Make a scheduling plan
Instagram Account Types
Before 2019, IG had only two account options: business or personal. Now users have a third option, the sexy Creator Account. They aim this account at influencers, public officials, entertainers, and personalities who have over 10,000 followers. Although the amount of followers is key to obtaining this option, the business account has many features, including auto publishing, that enable writers to grow their brand.
IG Personal Account
This is your standard account, available to anyone. I do not recommend using a personal/standard account for your author brand. It's better to have a designated account to focus on your author goals and sell your work. This account lacks features to auto publish and won’t be useful.
IG Creator Account
If you have a steady following on IG and haven’t changed to this account, consider the additional features this account provides. You can create a targeted marketing strategy and discover exactly how your audience interacts with your content. Compared to the Business Profile, the Creator Account has more specific and frequent insights on user behavior, providing daily reports on dips and spikes of followers and the content that prompted the change.
This account has the caveat that one needs 10k followers to join this somewhat elite club. If you are there - kudos, my writer friend! If not, it’s good to set goals. Maybe this is a motivating factor for your marketing.
This account provides more granular analytics, but also helps with creating content. The Creator Profile has access to the Creator Studio, which can manage, schedule, and post to Facebook Page and IG. Creator users can access their work from a desktop, or use a new mobile app, where they can search and edit their content from multiple pages in one place. The Creator Studio lets authors gain insights unique from other accounts because they include daily updates on followers and what actions they take with specific posts.
Instagram designed the Creator account for an individual user who wants to zero in on their followers and the content they engage with. There is a drawback though as Later, one scheduling partner with Instagram, states on their website: “Instagram creator profiles aren’t connected to the Instagram API, which means they can’t use features such as Auto Publish or Later’s analytics tools.”
Let’s move on to the best solution for most writers: the Business account.
IG Business Account
The Business Profile is the recommended IG account if you want to use an Instagram Partner to auto-publish on IG.
- Weekly analytics about followers and posts.
- Promotion and ‘boosts’ to posts as ads
- Ability to add links to IG Stories
- Check-out feature for purchases
- Quick Replies for inbox
- Schedule and auto-publish with an IG Partner
Steps to creating an IG Business Account
These steps include linking your IG account to a Facebook Page. I recommend that your Facebook Page is also business-related to increase the functionality of the auto-posts. The two work together to allow auto-publishing and they need to be linked. If this doesn’t occur, you will be prompted to publish your updates to Instagram with Push Notifications, even if you have an IG partner scheduling app.
Note: The graphic below explains the difference between Auto Publish and Push Notifications.
Even if an IG Business Account isn’t right for you, there are still conveniences you can utilize with a scheduling app.
Scheduling app features with non-Business accounts:
Most of these offer IG Push Notifications. These allow you to form your posts and with a few polishing steps (tagging, adding links and hashtag collections) you can still have the post nearly ready when posting manually. The following graphic illustrates a comparison between the Auto Publishing and Push Notifications.
Choosing a Scheduling App
There are many apps to choose from, but IG has a handful of selected services that have their blessing. I included three of the most popular "official partners" in this article.
Following is a brief description of the benefits of each, a link to their setup instructions, and a graphic comparing the features, prices, and content allotment. See how Hootsuite, Later, and Buffer stand up as major scheduling apps to your Author needs.
Be aware there are many companies that can auto-schedule your work. Be wary of ones not approved by Instagram as they are known to take action against those who don’t follow their guidelines and freeze or ban their accounts.
Auto Publishing may be the norm for most authors and entrepreneurs, but at Instagram it’s discouraged! Instagram supports a culture of spontaneous posts and users have had their accounts banned after using 3rd party apps to work around the IG rules to not auto-publish.
These three Social Media Management Apps are Instagram Partners and have full functionality to Auto Publish Posts in Instagram.
Hootsuite was the first recognized IG Partner. Although most of these scheduling partners have a more expensive option for businesses with multiple users or accounts, Hootsuite’s pricing begins at $29 a month. They have a 30 trial period, but no free usage after that. They offer a handy dashboard and detailed mobile app, allowing you to work remotely and on the go.
If you write for a nonprofit, Hootsuite has discounted pricing for nonprofits available upon request.
Other perks of Hootsuite include training and options for professional growth. "Rich in features and marketing knowledge, they have classes to support your learning about how to best use their marketing tools along with certification if you complete certain course work." If you want professional style marketing, this site gives you all the scheduling you could want and the training to master it. Official certification is available if that is your cup of tea!
If you don’t mind the price, Hootsuite may be for you.
- Their dashboard allows you to make informed decisions about what is working and where to put your next marketing efforts.
- This app allows you to connect with multiple social media profiles, including Instagram, so you can track all your posts, comments, analytics, and scheduled media all in one handy spot.
- Hootsuite's dashboard allows up to organize 10 multiple streams and unlimited posts.
- Note: If you are in the 30-day free trial, there is a limit of 30 posts scheduled at a time.
This Instagram partner boasts of a free forever option and has tiers of paid options to suit the needs of start-up companies and many author budgets. Paid options are called Starter, Growth and Advanced. As you pay more, the ability to schedule more content increases.
- The Starter level costs $7.50 per month and the author can schedule 60 posts per profile in their set.
- The Growth level is $16.50 per month, allowing up to 60 posts per profile.
- The Advance level is the most expensive at $33 per month, but allows the author unlimited posts for their profile set.
Each price point allows the author to group a ‘social set’ of profiles like a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, for one author brand. The free version allows the writer to post up to 30 items per social profile in the set, allowing more scheduling once previous content has posted.
Later allows auto-publishing to Instagram as long as the author’s account is a Business account on Instagram and it is linked to a Facebook Page.
App features include support, and an online community, to help you get the most from their product. Their dashboard keeps track of the posts and analytics to support your brand growth. They focus on reliable service for the smaller business, and perhaps this is what your author marketing needs.
Buffer, a popular scheduling service and Instagram partner, also supports auto publishing to Instagram.
- Buffer has a 14 day free trial followed by a $15 per month Pro level.
- There are more professional options for larger businesses and multiple users.
- The Pro level offers the author up to 8 social profiles or ‘channels’ along with 100 scheduled posts at a time.
- Product support and training
- Buffer also has a dashboard that allows the writer to see all their posts in one place.
Like the other apps mentioned here, Buffer will auto-publish to IG if there is a business account. The push notification is like the other programs, and allows authors who don’t have business accounts to plan their IG posts in advance.
The push notification option for IG does not allow cropping or filters from their site. Any photo tagging has to be completed when finalizing the post and manually publishing it. Like the other scheduling sites, authors can schedule as many posts as they like, and it adds them to the queue like any other posts.
Auto scheduling can happen safely and without the worry of having your account banned from IG, and you should be sure to research as the technology develops. Consider 3rd party schedulers that are IG partners and always follow the guidelines set out by Instagram.
See the specific instructions for the Service of your choice, but in general, these are steps each program takes:
- Convert to IG and FB business account and connect them for the best functionality.
- Schedule your content and become familiar with how each program rolls out your content, handles incoming comments, and shares analytics with you.
- Discover what peak times work for your targeted audience and change your plan accordingly.
Now it's your turn. What social media tips or tricks do you recommend? Have you had success with one of these three? Tell us about other successful programs down in the comments!
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Kris Maze is an author, freelance writer, and teacher. She enjoys writing twisty, speculative fiction with character driven plots. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and thrillers, she started to write her own books. Her first dystopian sci-fi romance, IMPACT, was published in 2020.
She also writes for various publications including a regular post at the award winning Writers in the Storm Blog. Influenced by short stories from Bradbury, Poe, O’Henry, and Jackson, Kris enjoys delivering a story with heart that keeps you guessing until the end.
When she isn’t spending time with her favorite people and pets, Kris Maze is taking pictures, hiking, or pondering the wisdom of Bob Ross. You can follow her author journey at her website at kmazeauthor.com.
By Janice Hardy,
It happens to the best of us.
We’re writing along, happy as can be, and then WHAM! Our story stalls. We write a scene, scrap it, write it again, move pieces around, cut and paste the same paragraph in nine different spots, but nothing works.
We’re not blocked, just…stuck.
Most of the time, getting stuck is due to a plot or story issue. We just don’t know what happens next, so we get frustrated, and that frustration builds until we walk away from the keyboard and consider taking up botany (or the random hobby of your choice).
But once we figure out what we’re missing, the words start flowing and we can get back to writing.
It's figuring out that “what’s missing” part that gets us.
10 Ways to Get Your Story Moving Again
1. Take another look at your protagonist’s goals and motivations.
The wrong goal or motivation can keep a story from moving forward. Maybe the plot says the protagonist needs to do X, but your subconscious knows there's no way she’d do that and it doesn’t let you write in the wrong direction.
Look at your protagonist's motivations. What does she really want? What's at stake if she fails? Odds are high she’s lost sight of what she’s trying to accomplish and that's making it hard to go forward.
2. Re-examine your conflict and stakes.
Since stories are about overcoming a problem and avoiding the repercussions of failing, not having a strong problem with high stakes gives your characters nothing to overcome.
Maybe the conflict is more idea than a solid challenge to resolve, and you need to focus more on the specifics of how the protagonist solves that conflict. Maybe the stakes aren’t high enough so it doesn’t matter if the protagonist succeeds or not.
Think about the steps and tasks that must be completed to fix the plot problems, and what happens if that conflict isn’t resolved.
3. Look at the backstory.
I know, sounds crazy, but sometimes you can't move forward because you haven't laid the right foundation for the story. You might need to add more information to provide the drive needed to move your protagonist to the next step. Or maybe you need to revise some history so it fits what the protagonist is doing now.
4. Reevaluate where your story is going.
Sometimes plots change as we write them and what we thought was going to happen turns out to be the wrong thing for the novel. Has your plot changed? Did it veer off to a more interesting direction?
Take a few minutes and look at the big picture. Maybe you’ve found a better way to tell your story, or you’ve followed a tangent too far off track.
5. Check where you’ve been.
Your subconscious might be spotting a problem with a repeated scene you haven’t noticed you’re repeating. Are you duplicating an event or plot point? For example, this is the third chase scene in row, of the second time your protagonist has had a heart-to-heart about the same issue. Or maybe you’re contradicting something from earlier in the story.
Trust your instincts. Sometimes they try to keep you from making a terrible mistake.
6. Look around.
Sometimes the right scene is in the wrong place—as in setting. The scene itself is fine, but the setting is stealing the conflict, or not adding enough tension, or not taking advantage of what’s going on.
Would the scene work better if you changed where it took place?
7. Move around.
If a scene feels like it ought to work, but doesn’t, that could indicate it’s in the wrong place in the novel. It might need more build up, or maybe it needs to happen before (or after) the character has learned information or experienced a critical moment in the book.
What happens if you move that scene to another spot in the novel? What if it happened earlier or later?
8. Talk to the antagonist.
If the antagonist isn’t causing trouble, the protagonist has nothing to overcome or fight against. A weak antagonist makes for a weak plot, and your muse might be picking up on that.
Have you been spending so much time on your protagonist that your antagonist's goals and motives are now weak or unbelievable? Maybe you need to shore up the villain's plan to get back on track.
9. Work through it outside the novel.
It’s easy to get caught up in the text itself, so try sitting down with a blank page and writing out what you feel is supposed to happen. Describe it as if you were telling a friend—no pressure, just casual conversation.
Sometimes writing it down before you "write" it down helps jar the sticky points loose. At the very least, it gives you the freedom to brainstorm and see how you can fix it.
10. Just write past it.
When all else fails, grit your teeth and write, even if you know it's more than likely going to suck. Sometimes the only way to get past a stuck scene is to brute force you way through. Take heart in the fact that it probably won't be as bad as you expect it to be, and you'll be able to revise it later.
If writing it doesn’t work, leave a note of what happens (as best you can), and skip to the next scene. Maybe you just need to see where the story goes before you know the right thing to happen in that particularly sticky scene.
Most “getting stuck” issues come back to a weak goal, conflict, or stakes, so look there first when you run into a wall with your scenes.
Often, getting stuck is our subconscious telling us we’re missing something vital for that scene, and it’s trying to keep us from writing the wrong words. Step away from the keyboard and think about what that might be. Odds are once you free up your brain to consider the options without all that pressure to write, the solution will appear.
What do you do when you get stuck in your story? Share your tips with us down in the comments section!
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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. Sign up for her newsletter and receive 25 Ways to Strengthen Your Writing Right Now free.