Q: I’m about five chapters into writing my first novel and I’ve reached a total impasse. I flat-out don’t know where to go from here. Everything started out so well, I had lots of story ideas and the pages were coming fast. But now I’m stuck, and I don’t know what to do. Should I scrap my novel and start over? How do I beat writer’s block?
A: Don’t worry. Here’s a solution that’s guaranteed to shake loose your creativity. And you can do it in just six easy steps. Ready?
First, take a deep breath. Set aside what you’re working on and think about the basics of your story for a moment. Go back in your mind to the original inspiration you had for your novel. Forget about the chapter you just wrote; focus instead on the bigger concepts. Remember the very first thing that inspired you.
Got it? Good. Now, in your notebook, answer these six questions:
1) WHO is my story really about?
Sometimes we get ourselves turned around and focus on the wrong person. Hint: the main character is the person with the most to lose, the person who spends the most time on stage, or the person who gets hurt the worst.
2) What does that character WANT?
It needs to be something specific that we can visualize her achieving. Something we could see in a photo. Is she trying to fix a problem? Achieve something that’s never been done before? Write down exactly what it is.
3) WHY does the character want it?
The more primal and universal the reason, the better. Especially if the character thinks that achieving this goal will make her a better person or mend a broken relationship.
4) What will the character DO to achieve it?
What direct action might she take in the future? Brainstorm at least ten actions. Later, you can pick out your favorites.
5) What stands in the WAY of the character achieving that goal?
How would these obstacles force the character to change plans midstream? Brainstorm at least ten obstacles: opposing characters, inner conflicts or physical roadblocks in the setting.
6) How should things get RESOLVED in the end?
Does the character achieve the goal? Or fail? Or realize that she was chasing the wrong goal all along?
Answering these questions will give you a bare-bones plan for writing your novel. If that doesn’t get you totally unblocked, spend time brainstorming more obstacles for the hero to overcome. Giving your character a problem to solve will get your story rolling again instantly.
So, in a nutshell, your novel is about a CHARACTER who has a GOAL or PROBLEM for a vital REASON. He or she DOES SOMETHING about it, but RUNS INTO TROUBLE. Finally, THINGS GET RESOLVED.
That’s it. Everything else is just fancying up that one basic paragraph. See, isn’t that simple? Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you:
My main character is __________. He/She needs to __________, because __________. So the character does __________. But __________ stands in the way. At the end, __________.
Just fill in the blanks and get back to writing your novel. It’s that simple!
Got a writing question? Just ask!