Last month, in an effort to feel calmer and write more, I tried a social media fast. It didn’t take long to diagnose why I’d been overdosing on social media: I was stuck. Like a car buried in the snow, I had no idea how to move my plot forward. When I tried to write, I’d get frustrated and go online. In January, a friend and I challenged each other to stay offline until we’d written. I stopped scanning the Facebook newsfeed when I got stuck. Instead, I tried some new tactics. Here are five tools to use the next time you hit a speed bump in your novel.
1. Move backwards. When we don’t know how our characters might get out of a messy situation, it might help to write about how they got into this mess in the first place. Take a few hours to write about your main characters’ back stories, family histories, or past emotional connections.
2. Move sideways. In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, the film moves between two stories set in parallel universes that hitch on whether the main character catches the train or not. Take one of your protagonist’s central decisions and change it. Write what happens to them in this parallel universe.
3. Listen to your characters. In Andrew M. Greeley’s science fiction novel God Game, the protagonist plays a video game in which he gets to play god to a cast of video characters who, after a lightening strike, become real. As he tries to broker peace between two warring communities in this new world of his, he hears their prayers. As a writer, you’re already playing god to your characters—you’ve created them and now control their destiny. What do you think they want? If they thought of you as their god, what would they pray for? What would they want their god—you—to do for them? Write down their requests in the form of prayers.
4. Ask questions. As a professional coach, I’ve been trained to ask clients powerful questions. When my characters seem weary, and I have no idea what to do with them, I find it helps to interview them. Yeah, I know it sounds weird. But sit down with pen and paper and write out questions to your characters and then record their answers. You may be surprised at what you learn.
5. Play with format. I’m enchanted with the many ways writers play with the novel’s form. In Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Good Squad, she writes one chapter as a Power Point presentation. What fun format could you import for your novel? Try writing a chapter or a scene as: ad copy, a script, a speech, an artist portfolio, a list poem, a haiku, a collage journal, a tell-all gossip story, or a high school book report.
Your turn: How do you write forward when you’re stuck?
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It). When she can’t figure out what happens next in her middle grade novel, she plays with dolls. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com