What to do when you’re stuck writing a story?
It’s every writer’s worst nightmare.
This is a scenario that is completely opposite from when you’re experiencing the creative urge. Luckily, it is also one that most writers also face, much like a creative block.
So, what do you do when you’re stuck writing a story that just won’t budge?
Well, it can be tempting to give up and just move one, but you’ll be happy to know that there is actually a solution. In fact, there are more than a few that you can try.
We’re listing down everything you can try when you’re stuck on a story that just won’t move forward. Try out the following and see which one works for you:
1. Consult the Outline
Sometimes, you might be stuck in a story because you literally lost focus on what is next. That’s why you need to take some time to consult the original outline. If you already have an outline made, try to find out which area you can focus on more.
In fact, it is a good idea to remake the outline. This allows you to reacquaint yourself with the plot and also bring your mind up to speed on what’s been happening so far. Also, if the protagonist is at a certain point, are their actions affecting others?
Try to see how their actions make a difference in the plot outline and see how you can enhance the story on this basis alone.
2. Make the Protagonist Cry
If the protagonist is making you cry, it’s time to make the protagonist cry by making life a little difficult for them. Oh, they just lost their job, well too bad, now their car is stolen and they have to walk home. What is this achieving other than giving you a bit of schadenfreude?
It creates suffering, pain and conflict. Now the protagonist has lost everything, they have to dig deep into themselves and try to find the answer to the solution here. It also makes the reader become more invested in the story as well.
So, make all the plans go bad, life become hard and even move all the goals away. Add some more pain and misery to the protagonist’s life to make the story move forward.
3. Focus on Another Character
Sitting stuck on one character’s journey can be an eye opening experience because you realize that you’re only focusing on one character. There are about 10 or 20 more characters available. Even if you don’t have 10 or 20, you know that you have other characters in your story as well.
In this case, it might be time to focus on another character. Try to imagine what the character is going through while the protagonist is stuck in their story arc. Take it as a real creative challenge and try to work out how other characters are growing.
It can turn into a very surprising growth for the character and show you just how your story will go forward.
4. Reacquaint Yourself with the Characters
Most writers have built up their characters with a persona where they list down all their characteristics, personality quirks and more. Don’t think your protagonist would do something like that? Why are you sure about that? It’s time to let go of the character confusion and take a look at the character sheets again.
You want to make sure that you’re not facing any issues or are forgetting anything which goes against the very nature of the character. Try to imagine them as people and how they would interact with others around them. Consider how you can enhance your character or think of a story plot which can allow you to show off their skills to the maximum.
This will also give you a new area to explore and you will find that your story can now move forward in a very interesting manner.
5. Add Another Supporting Character
If you have to look at your characters and can’t decide if they’re the prefect ones for your story, it might be time to add a new character. Adding them later into the story can be a bit challenging, especially if you weren’t considering adding them in the first place.
However, this does make you consider how to move the story forward. What circumstances will make it likely for the protagonist to meet the supporting character? What problem can the supporting character help them in? How will they stand out from the other existing characters?
Just thinking of adding a supporting character can be enough to get your creative juices flowing and start working on your story again.
6. Take a Look at Continuity
If you are stuck at a certain point, it might be a good idea to consider looking at the continuity of the story. You want to make sure that you’re avoiding any plot holes, not missing anything important or forgetting about any other details.
Additionally, this is something that you should check with every chapter that you finish. In this case, you want to make sure that you’re able to maintain the story and that a reader cannot spot the obvious flaws. Plus if you relied on introducing a certain plot point to help the story move forward, does it create a mess?
This makes it necessary to try and look at continuity in the story and ensures that you’re not just adding whatever comes to hand.
7. Is it Time for a Subplot?
Does it feel like you’re reaching the end of the plotline but there’s so much more that you have to tell? How about adding a subplot into the story? Think of subplots like the side quests you see in a video game. While side quests do tend to waste your time more, they add to the storyline as well.
Most readers also don’t mind having subplots in the story as it gives them something other than the base plot to focus on. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there are many subplots, including the one where Harry and Ron have to go into the forest to talk to the spiders.
Even though it was a detour, it still connected with the main plot, made the reading experience interesting and made Ron more human for being afraid of spiders.
8. Try Some Flashbacks
Are your characters becoming too focused in the present? It’s time to give them a dose of the past with a well placed flashback. Try to work the flashback into the content slowly and very gently. It’s not going to be a dramatic flashback because those are rare. Instead, try to make your flashback more minor but poignant.
Additionally, avoid getting too dramatic because you want to make sure that your readers don’t mind the interruption in the reading experience. This means that you also have to use flashbacks very carefully. If you add too much, you will end up annoying your readers who won’t appreciate how the story breaks their attention.
With the right flashback though, it is possible to boost the reading experience and push the story forward.
9. Give Some Mystery Here
Adding mystery to the story isn’t the answer you think of when wondering what to do when you’re stuck writing a story. The good news is that, it is definitely one that is going to push the story further. Allowing some events to be steeped in mystery can make the reading experience enticing and allow you some leeway.
The leeway here refers to how you were able to move the protagonist from Point A to Point B. When you’re just focused on moving the story forward, you can just give a mysterious air and keep the medium hidden, but when the time is right, you can easily try to explain what happened.
Keep in mind that this is a quick fix that isn’t applicable for every scenario and shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily.
10. Be Cruel to Your Protagonist
It can be frustrating when your story comes to a stop but there’s no way to take that frustration out. Or is there? How about you decide to stop being nice to the protagonist and add some misery to their lives?
Throw them in the dungeon, spill water on the treasure map or just make them lose their money. There are so many ways that you can make things difficult to your protagonist.
The main reason for this is to add more to the story. Pain and suffering cause conflict which your protagonist has to resolve. But, if you and the antagonist are working together, you can easily make things very unpleasant for the protagonist.
It’s a small way to push the story forward but you’ll find that it does tend to make things interesting and allows you to push the story ahead.
11. Twisting the Story a Bit
Another fun way to push the story forward is by trying to add a compelling twist to the story. Many famous movies have mastered adding a twist. Thor and Loki aren’t brothers, Luke’s father is Darth Vader, Jon Snow is a Targaryen and more. You can take a page out of the chapter here and start adding a twist into your story.
The twist will introduce a new point of interest in your work and make it easier for you to work on improving your storyline. You might just be able to incorporate the twist with other interesting features in your work. Just remember to be careful when adding a twist. It’s not fun for the reader if the twist just comes out of nowhere.
You want to make sure that the twist is added with the story continuity, plot point, characters and other book elements in mind.
12. Add a Betrayal
Adding a good betrayal can also help a story move forward and this is one which can take your readers by surprise. You want to make sure that the betrayal really resonates with everyone. Plus, your aim can differ based on the outcome you are looking for.
Suppose the protagonist suffers a betrayal. This can hamper their plans, ruin their defenses, leave them destitute or even cause them harm. This means good news for the antagonist and bad news for the protagonist. But, how about adding betrayal of the opposite kind?
Instead of things going wrong, things can also go right because of a betrayal. In this case, you will have completely flipped reader expectations and given them something to root for.
13. A Secret and a Hard Place
What’s the worst thing you feel you have to do? Lie to your loved ones about a secret? Even though it’s a secret that is killing you and they want to help. That’s what you need to do to your protagonist. Make them lie but you also have to work on the secret.
Both conflict and secrets are good tools that add conflict into a story and push the storyline further. When used skillfully, it can make the readers become more interested and also turn the protagonist into an even more interesting character. So, if you want to move your story forward, this is a good writing tool to add.
This small human touch is one that will resonate with different readers and help you build a following pretty soon.
14. It’s Time to Die
Sometimes, it is a good idea to sacrifice a character for the greater good. In this case, the greater good comes in the form of killing a character so that the story moves forward or improves the reading experience. In this case, you have to make sure that you are killing an important character.
You don’t want to kill someone who is insignificant because the readers aren’t going to care about them enough. Consider the Game of Thrones series and books. Readers love the characters so much and George R.R Martin keeps killing them like flies.
Plus, every time they’re put in a precarious situation, the readers assume it is the end of their favorite character but will still continue to read or watch the show to know what happens next.
15. Make it Romantic
Sometimes, to make the story go forward, you don’t need to add a death or a twist or even mystery. Adding some romance will also work very well. Again, you need to do this skillfully. You can’t just add another character and have them fall in love in the next paragraph.
Make sure that it isn’t just you; it is your reader who is also interested and invested in the romance. Good romance can then drive the story forward and not appear as a gratuitous erotic scene in the book. Instead, it will be a way to showcase the trust, special bond and respect that the two characters have.
With a good romance, you can not only drive the story forward but also make your protagonist appear in a favorable light too.
16. Cliffhangers Can be Your Best Friends
The writers of old got one major thing right when they used cliffhangers. You can drive the story forward, leave your readers wanting more and tackle the story with a fresh mind. This can be a great driving tool but remember not to keep reusing it every single time.
It is possible for the readers to get bored of the cliffhanger as well. When used properly and boldly, cliffhangers are the perfect tool. Plus, once you use one, you will see just what to do when you’re stuck writing a story with a cliffhanger.
If you’re not sure about using a cliffhanger, try to read books by Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and even Alexandre Dumas.
17. Make the Protagonist Choose
Think of your protagonist like a spoilt child. They’re always getting everything they want. But what will happen if they make a bad choice and they don’t get what they want? Imagine what kind of tantrum your character would throw and try to see how it adds to the story.
Whether it is about the path that they should walk or the people they should interact with, you want to give the protagonist a choice. This aspect brings them to life and makes the story more interesting to read and even to write.
Just remember not to make the protagonist choose all the time. If you’re using it all the time, you will end up making your character too fake.
18. Get Them Married
You made them fall in love earlier, how about giving your characters’ story a happy conclusion? In this case, you can ensure that your readers are going to like it a lot. Your story can be moved forward definitely with the inclusion of the right wedding.
Plus, not all weddings are meant to be joyous occasions. George R.R Martin has famously turned the Red Wedding as a moment of regret for some and triumph for others. It was a tool that forwarded the story to a monumental plot point and increased the interest of the reader.
By applying the same theme or by using a wedding as a flexible tool, you can easily ensure that you will be able to forward the story while also boosting the plot point.
19. Start to Add a What If?
It’s always interesting to face what if decisions in real life. So how do you think your characters will face these? Adding what if decisions to a story can be a very interesting route to take and one which has a lot of potential. The Great Gatsby is a book that is written solely on the outlook of poignant what ifs.
Luckily, not all the “what if’s” that you add in a story have to be hinged in romance or have to do with love. They can also be applied in a different route. Try and answer the following in your story:
- What will happen if you make the protagonist fail?
- If the antagonist understands the plan, what can you do?
- What do you do if, the protagonist eats a magic plant that gives him supernatural powers?
Once you answer these, you can see just how they push your story forward. Plus, you can also make up many what if questions on your own too.
20. Try the Most Unlikely Route
When you are stuck in a story try taking the most unlikely route. In this case, this means that instead of north, you go south, instead of the protagonist killing the antagonist, he ends up getting stabbed. Darkness is now covering the entire land so how will our heroes fare?
Well, they fare by running away and becoming cowards. They’re not brave enough to fight the antagonist so, the antagonist gets to get enjoy his freedom. But eventually, the heroes stop being cowards. Their courage grows and they are able to overcome the odds!
Try to think of things that you can undertake from the most unlikely route. This adds a nice twist and a good element to the story.
21. Power Through With Free Writing!
So, what to do when you’re stuck writing a story and none of the tips mentioned here have worked so far? It’s time to just power through and try free writing. If you can’t make the story move forward, move on to the next scene or start working on the ending.
Give your brain something to do instead of allowing it to sit idle. You will notice that eventually, the fog around your brain will clear and you will be able to write a story properly. In the meantime, all the work you do should be used as a cursory outline.
You might be apprehensive about trying these tools but honestly, it’s better than getting writer’s block on your story. So give them a try and see which tip works best for you!