At some point as you’re writing a novel, you’re gonna get stuck. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have writer’s block, but you may have a seriously hard time figuring out what should happen next. It’s a terrible feeling!
This is especially common when you are juggling intersecting plotlines and it’s tricky to figure out how two characters should interact or where everyone should go next.
Here’s a trick that always helps me get things back on track:
For each major character, write a journal entry on how the plot of your novel has looked from their perspective up to that point.
I like to do this in a literal journal. Sometimes I write in first person other times I just jot down a quick third person summary, but the important thing is to really put yourself in each character’s shoes, one by one, and imagine seeing the events unfold through their eyes.
Chances are you’re very attuned to how your protagonist is engaged with the plot, since you are primarily trying to capture their experience. But you might be missing how things look to your secondary characters and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn.
What you’re really unlocking here are motivations, emotions, and incentives.
One of your characters might be taking too much of a backseat and aren’t adequately going after the things they want, and you need to help them make things more complicated.
Or you might see how one of the characters might actually be angrier or more upset than you thought they were by something that happened earlier.
Or maybe they should have jumped in to capitalize on an earlier opportunity or it’s time for them to step up to assert themselves.
Once you are more in tune with how the different motivations, emotions, and incentives overlap, the right solution for moving forward will be right around the corner.
Still stuck? Try these tips for writer’s block!
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Art: Portrait de l’artiste à la palette by Paul Cézanne
I wish I had the problem of intersecting plot lines.
Nathan Bransford says
That’s where outlining can help!
JOHN T. SHEA says
Novel stuck? Wasn’t it Raymond Chandler who suggested having a blonde with a gun come in the door? Or was it a dead blonde? A dead blonde with a gun? A blonde zombie, with a gun? Who will eat the protagonist’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti? There! My novel is unstuck!
But seriously, Nathan, your suggestion sounds good. Orson Scott Card and E. L. James went to the extreme of rewriting whole novels (Ender’s Game and Fifty Shades of Gray respectively) from another character’s POV.
Dale Josef says
Great post! A couple of fine points seem somewhat unclear, however: What is the difference between a “literal” journal and an ordinary journal? Isn’t a journal “literal” by default? Is there also a metaphorical journal? I suppose there is, but how would one write in it? The same word crops up again: What is “literal” first person? Isn’t first person POV already a literary device? “Literal first person” seems to be juxtaposed with “quick third person”. Is there is a “quick first person”? How does that differ from literal first person? Thanks for your patience in taking the time to answer questions from a literal newb. Your pal…
Nathan Bransford says
In the first instance I say “literal” to distinguish between a fictional journal entry I might type on my laptop and handwriting in a notebook, which is what I’m recommending.
The second instance is just a mistake!