Were you writing a novel and got stuck? Try these tips.
21 Tuesday Jan 2014
Written by J. Abram Barneck in Writing Tips
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So you started writing a novel and you are stuck. It happens to many of us. I have to say, that I’ve only been stuck once. Every short story or novel I have set out to finish, I have easily finished except once.
Now, I’ve only written two novels and only published one (the first one will forever hide as ones and zeros and never see the light of day). However, I have written a number of short stories and a whole lot of poems.
So I asked myself today why it is that I rarely get stuck? Here are some steps I came up with that I do without even thinking about it.
Step 1 – Ask Yourself Questions About Your Character’s Actions
I, of course, do character profiles when I write. If you don’t have character profiles, stop reading now and go create them. By the time you are done, you won’t need this article. Come back to this article next time you are stuck.
For my more prominent characters, I do more than just make character profiles; I continually ask myself questions about the characters:
- “What could this character do that would be awesome?”
- “What could this character do that would be utterly sad?”
- “What could this character do that would be evil?”
- “What could this character do that would be frustrating?”
- “What could this character do that would be sexy?”
- “What could this character do that would be unexpected?”
- “What could this character do that would be funny?”
Note: Replace “this character” which each of your important characters. Feel free to add additional emotions if you want.
I actually do this often. I don’t do this just at the start of my book, but probably all the time.
Step 2 – Choose a Character to Kill
If your “sad” wasn’t already a character dying then consider which character should die. Now ask yourself these questions:
- How will he/she die?
- Why will he/she die?
- When will he/she die?
Wait! Did you just choose an unimportant character? Toughen up. Pick a more important character and try again.
Step 3 – Keep a Running List of Ideas
As I write, I get ideas. I have ideas such as “this should totally happen . . .” or “these two are totally going to get together . . .” or “He will never expect that she is doing this . . .”
These ideas are amazing when I have them. But you want to know what has happened to all those ideas when I forget to write them down? Well, I forget those ideas.
So I don’t just think about them. I write it down. Even better, I don’t put these ideas in some text file on my computer that I’ll never open. I don’t put on paper that could get lost.
Where do I write these ideas? I write them in same document where I am writing my novel. I write them directly below where I am typing.
Why? Because then I will always see them.
The other day, I hadn’t written anything toward Book 2 in months. Work and school and family had been in the way. I thought I was going to be stuck, but I pulled up my document and there were a dozen lines of ideas, write below where I was writing.
Step 4 – Keep the End in Mind
Again, here are some more questions:
- How do I want this novel to end?
- What needs to happen to make this ending happen?
Some people can do this easily. They can map out their entire novel and then go write it.
I can’t do that. I can think of the characters. I can think of some ideas and some directions and how things should end. After that, it is like a tree of idea branches and I could go any direction.
Step 5 – Don’t Expect Perfection on the First Draft
Here is a secret about writing. Quiet now, I want to whisper this so only you can here: “You can add stuff later. Yeah, really. After the first draft.”
Look, some of my best writing happens after my novel is finished and I am revising it. I get a great idea as I am reading and it such a good idea and it will vastly improve the story. Adding these in are fun and exciting.
How many times have you heard that a good writer should “show not tell”? Well, when I wrote my novel I was very willing to “tell” not “show”. I just planned a special revision pass on my novel for the sole purpose of replacing telling with showing. Guess what, I never got hampered down worried about showing. Also, after doing a showing pass, I am better at writing with showing, so my second book so far just naturally has more showing.
Note: Not every line needs to be “showing”. Go read Harry Potter or Twilight or any of the other popular books. I bet you find plenty of telling in them.
How many times have you heard your characters have to have identifiable traits? Guess what? They don’t need those on your first draft. Add quirks in later. O’Brien didn’t thumb anything nervously on my first draft (or my first 10 drafts for that matter).
Did you ask yourself all these questions. It doesn’t matter if no one else thinks your ideas are awesome, utterly sad, evil, frustrating, sexy, unexpected, or funny. It only matters that you do.
Now are you excited about all these ideas?
- If not, stop writing and focus on a different career.
- If so, great. Now go start writing them.
Did you pick a character to kill. Guess what. I’ll give you a secret. You don’t have to kill them. Go ahead if you feel like it. But you might have come up with some great story ideas just thinking about it.
Do you now have a running list of ideas written directly below where you are actually typing?
Are you willing to write without worrying about perfection? Can you ignore all the silly “you must write this way” instructions others have given you? Great. You are ready to start writing again!
P.S. Don’t forget, you are going to need to go through about twenty to fifty drafts on your first novel. I did. I can already tell that I will have fewer drafts on my second novel, all because I put in the effort on my first.