I provided 7 tips to help my fellow fiction writers get unstuck. These are all things that work for me when I face this problem, though no one technique works 100% of the time. At the heart, really, of each tip is the idea that it’s important not to get too caught up in getting your story to its conclusion. Let your story meander a bit; let your characters do things that might not seem to be directly related to the plot. Whatever doesn’t work can be revised out later, but you might find that you discover new, inventive, interesting plot points through letting the story run free for a bit.
Here are my 7 tips for getting unstuck in fiction plotting:
- Use writing prompts. I’m a big time advocate for writing prompts. Damien and I keep a prompt bowl, which we add to anytime we can think of new prompts. When you just can’t figure out what should happen next (or when you want to write but can’t decide what to write about), a prompt can help point you in a new, unexpected direction.
- Write a concrete, in the moment scene—have your character DO something, ANYTHING. Avoid writing a scene in which your character is simply thinking. One way to do this is to make a list of possible settings and a list of possible characters. Then have your main character interact with another character in a setting. What happens when he or she runs into So-and-So at X location? What will they talk about? What will happen? Something interesting and worthwhile might come of it, and even if the scene gets revised out of a later draft, writing a concrete scene like this might be just what you needed to break down that writer’s block.
- Open a blank document to free yourself from the rest of the story, and place your character into a new scene. You might also remove yourself from the computer altogether and start writing a new scene with pen and paper (or if you’re already writing with pen and paper, try moving to a new notebook or start writing on the computer). This method will probably leave inconsistencies between this new scene and whatever you had already written in this story, but that’s okay. As with everything, these things can be fixed later through revision. In the meantime, separating yourself from what you’ve already written might help your mind to look at the story in a new way, and you might think of interesting things that should happen in the story that you wouldn’t have thought of when you were so attached to the entire story as a whole.
- On the other hand, you could read through what you have so far and try to key in on elements that are already in the story but are not being fully explored. Maybe there are issues, characters, or objects that you’ve mentioned briefly with no intention of pursuing them in a more in-depth way. What would happen if you went ahead and pursued one? As an example, in my story, “This Is Not a Fairy Tale,” from Peter Never Came, in the drafting stage I just briefly mentioned that one of the characters, Stephen’s, hands were rough and dry. This detail ended up getting woven into the story pretty thoroughly, and in its final incarnation, the story relies very heavily on Stephen’s hands and how the other main character, Lucy, reacts to them.
- Step away from the computer for a while. Go for a walk (but bring a pen and paper!), or listen to music. Watch a movie or read. Taking the pressure off of yourself to write might be all you need to overcome your writer’s block.
- Combine two stories that you’re stuck on. Obviously, this is only useful if you’re stuck on two stories that have similarities. Personally, I tend to work on several stories at once, and I do often find that X story and Y story have similar main characters, or settings, or situations (or sometimes all three). Combining such stories can result in one, much more complex and interesting story.
- Finally, if all you can come up with is a cliché, go ahead and write it anyway so you can move forward. During the revision process you can look for and rework clichés.